The trouble with the Antony Worrall Thompson e-petition

There is a petition here for a review of the smoking ban. It's also linked to at the top of my sidebar.

I personally have signed this petition and I'm encouraging everyone I can to do likewise. I've signed it because it's a start, not because It represents all the changes I want to see in the smoking ban legislation.

In fact it's flawed, maybe even fatally so. At best I imagine this petition could bring about a debate in Parliament which may pave the way for future discussion on the issue.

Read the wording:

We petition the Government to review the impact of the smoking ban on pubs and clubs and consider an amendment that would give licensees the option of separate well-ventilated smoking rooms.

I would like to see nothing less than a complete repeal of the ban and the choice handed back to pub owners. When you want something that have little chance of getting you start small. That will be why this petition only asks for smoking to be allowed in pubs with well ventilated, separate rooms.

This gives the non-smokers the option to stay apart from the smokers, and this is where the flaw in the plan lies.

When was the last time you saw a pub that had separate rooms? Think about it. Think about all the pubs you still go in and all those you remember having been in. There aren't any pubs left with separate rooms are there? Well certainly not many.

I can't think of a single pub in my hometown that has separate rooms. Anyone from Darwen who knows otherwise, please enlighten me in the comments.

Of course when I talk about separate rooms I don't just mean separate areas like bar, pool room etc. I mean rooms, where you have to walk through a door and close it behind you. This would be the only kind of room that would work in the proposals of this e-petition.

I also know why there are no separate rooms left. I've worked in and ran pubs for years and I've retained a good working knowledge of licencing laws.

At some point (not sure when) separate rooms became frowned upon by licencing magistrates. It was prefered that all areas of the pub could be seen from the bar. This was so that people couldn't use drugs and get up to other assorted mischief in dark corners where they were unobserved by the staff.

Pubs tend to be refitted on a regular basis, new pubs are built and existing properties are converted into pubs. All plans for new builds and converts need to be submitted to the magistrates before they go ahead. Plans for refits also need to be submitted if the changes will alter the capacity of the venue. This could be a change as small as removing fixed seating.

It became so much easier to obtain / keep an alcohol license if all areas of the pub could be observed from the bar. Separate rooms slowly became a thing of the past.

Although it's not much of an issue now as most pubs are open plan, these provisions still exist within licencing law. It's possible that even if the Government were to graciously allow smoking in separate rooms, as the petition requests, no pub would be able to get the required permission to create a separate room.

There is also another get out clause. I've seen this before under the guise of 'pyro wiring'. Blackburn with Darwen council decided they would only grant an entertainments licence to venues with pyro wiring.

It was totally unaffordable and it killed karaoke in the borough (no bad thing really) until the local licensees got the council to relax the rules.

One licensee, the Ewood Arms in Ewood, went the opposite way and immediately had the entire pub re-wired in pyro at a huge expense to himself. When he realised the collective efforts of the other landlords might bring about change, and he might loose out big time, he joined the councils side and demanded that everyone be forced to re-wire.

This could be used if the amendment to the ban was allowed but the ventilation equipment required was of such a spec that made it unaffordable to all but the managed pubs run by big breweries, who would then demand that it be so.

I do understand that we can't go all out and demand that the legislation be repealed in it's entirety and everything be put back to normal, but this particular e-petition goes too far in the opposite direction and has been overly watered down.

We could at least demand that landlords get the choice, with certain restrictions (Kids, food etc). That way we could have smoking pubs and non smoking pubs rather than separate rooms.

Segregating smokers and non smokers is no different to what we have now, apart from our new smoking shelters would be more pleasant in bad weather.

What we need to return to is integration and tolerance. Smoking pubs and non smoking pubs at the discretion of the property owners.

As for the petition, well like I said, I signed it. There are a few others, one or two demanding much more than just the right to fag it in the broom cupboard, but none have the kind of backing and publicity that this one does. If one of the smoking petitions reaches the required 100,000 signatures then it will be A.W. Thompsons.

I hope this doesn't harm the cause of the smaller, landlocked pubs who don't have separate rooms. When they ask to become smoking allowed throughout, I hope we don't hear, "We gave you smoking rooms, don't push it".


Furor Teutonicus said...

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