The government is right to reject calls for the complete banning of smoking outside pubs and bars



At a time when all efforts from local authorities should be on getting as many people out of their homes, to embrace bars and cafes, representatives from the Local Government Association (LGA) have demonstrated a remarkable lack of finger on the pulse initiative; by calling for a ban on outdoor smoking. 

Labour Councillor Paulette Hamilton, the vice-chair of the LGA’s community wellbeing board, had urged peers to give councils the powers to extend smoke-free areas to include pavements so “this al fresco summer can be enjoyed by everyone”.

Subsequently, an amendment by peers was considered with vocal support from several Liberal Democrats; which would have made all pavement licences issued by councils conditional on outside seating being ‘smoke-free’. In a victory for common sense and the hospitality industry at large, the proposed amendment failed yesterday, after it struggled to gain the official support of the opposition.

It goes without saying that banning the ability to partake in one’s legal right to smoke, is literally restricting the freedom of one group, at the expense of another. By default, the proposed policy is nonsensical and contradicts itself.

Clearly, such a move would add additional pressures to our already struggling hospitality industry, by applying further red tape to a portion of the clientele. What struggling businesses clearly do not need is more regulation, especially at a time when so many are investing in bringing their establishments in line with government guidance to prevent the spread of Covid-19. It was also unclear whether ‘smoke free’ extended to vaping, which continues to be undertaken by millions of Britons.

Much as was with the case when smoking was banned in pubs back in 2007, those that smoke or who opt for an occasional cigarette when relaxing or socialising, could find themselves more likely to stay at home free of interference. That would mean more people bulk buying alcohol from the big supermarkets, at the expense of the pub trade who are unable to compete with same level of sales promotion. This is simply something the sector cannot afford to risk.

Thankfully, the Government had rejected the earlier calls for banning outdoor smoking, opting instead for more clearly defined separate seating areas for smokers and non-smokers. Sensibly, according to the Morning Advertiser, the Government made clear that businesses can make their own minds up about smoking policy at their respective establishments, without additional state intervention. Interestingly they went further, by recognising the vast sums of money already invested by businesses, to cater for the smoking outside, since the introduction of the ban. In a statement, they said: “banning outdoor smoking would lead to significant closures and job losses”.

In a further welcome move, the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) are pushing, via the Business and Planning Bill, for pubs to simplify the process for pavement licenses, making it easier to utilise car parks and terraces for outdoor dining.  Throughout the crisis, the government made it easier for businesses to adapt their model, so as to operate in some form during the lockdown. Further easing of planning regulations is to be congratulated.  

It is through practical initiatives such as this, that our hospitality industry will have the ability to fight for the future of their business during these incredibly difficult times; ensuring that as many people as possible can enjoy the wonders of their local pubs and bars.

Mo Metcalf-Fisher is a political commentator. Follow him on twitter: @mometfisher