COMMENT: UK pubs - no smoke without ire?
Although the US experience shows falling profits, a handful of UK pubs have benefited from banning smoking. Pubs catering to diners, women and families will be most likely to profit from a ban. However, the industry would benefit from offering more choice to the consumer and self-regulation rather than legislation.
Despite transatlantic warnings to the contrary, some UK pubs are finding that bans on smoking can boost profits. While only a handful of publicans have chosen to lay down a total ban, these have found it encourages new customers, while alienating only a few regulars. One pub found that it doubled its profits after banning smoking in June.
Banning smoking doesn't just benefit pubs by attracting more custom - it can also improve the working environment for staff. Following the pay-out of £50,000 to a victim of passive smoking at work last week, this is a serious concern for pubs and companies in other leisure industries. Pizza Hut has recently enacted a smoking ban in its restaurants.
It's unlikely that all UK pubs would benefit from a smoking ban - most of those that have succeeded are pub restaurants, such as the Brewer's Fayre chain, where there are clear advantages to customers to banning smoke. The type of pub, and the clientele, will determine whether this will be a successful policy. For example, women are more likely to favour smoke-free pubs, as are families and younger, health-conscious consumers.
The industry as a whole will benefit from an increase in the number of smoke-free pubs. The chief medical officer recently called for a ban on public smoking - something that will have a negative effect on many traditional pubs. If the industry can demonstrate that there are a sufficient number of smoke-free pubs offering a reasonable choice to consumers, it may be able to make a case for self-regulation.
Another, possibly better, solution would be to follow the trend of segregating pubs into smoking and non-smoking areas. While this can be an expensive option for independent pubs or small chains, which would need to purchase costly ventilation equipment, it would create a more balanced situation for smokers and non-smokers alike. If the pubs can keep both sets of consumers happy, everyone will be a winner.
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