Scotland's Smoking Ban: A Breath of Fresh Air

By Marco Evers

Politicians considering smoking bans in Germany would be well-advised to take a look at Scotland, which now has one of Europe's toughest anti-smoking laws. Bar owners and patrons alike have welcomed the ban -- even if it means other smells are now noticeable in the pubs.

Scotland would smell differently if it wasn't for Maureen Moore. As chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) Scotland, Moore spent 12 years fighting for a ban on smoking in public places. With her small staff of two dozen, she forged a powerful coalition of doctors and celebrities, appealed to the consciences of members of parliament and cabinet ministers, and attacked the tobacco lobby head-on.

Moore received death threats, but in the end she also got precisely the law she had envisioned. As a result of her initiative, the Scottish parliament enacted an unusually tough law to protect non-smokers in public places. Smoking is now banned in all workplaces. Since March 26, 2006, cigarettes have been stubbed out in restaurants and bars, schools and hospitals, and their reek can no longer be smelled on Scotland's stages or in the drivers' cabs of its trucks.

As well as becoming a non-smoking zone, Scotland now also serves as a laboratory of sorts, one in which researchers can study how a radical smoking ban changes a society and its drinking establishments. Will smokers stay home? Will the ban drive bar owners out of business? Are bar patrons sneaking cigarettes in toilets?

After almost one smoke-free year in Scotland, it is already clear who the winners and losers are. The governors of Germany's states could take a page from Scotland's book before they make a decision on measures to protect nonsmokers in Germany this Thursday in Berlin. The states of Lower Saxony, Thuringia and North Rhine-Westphalia are opposed to general smoking bans, preferring to leave the decision up to individual bar owners -- but the case of Scotland suggests this is not necessarily the best way forward.

Scotland's winners were the two-thirds of its citizens who are non-smokers but who were nonetheless exposed to smoke wherever they went. The content of hazardous particles in pub air has dropped by 86 percent, so much that the air quality in pubs is almost as good as it is outside. Maureen Moore has received a lot of fan mail from asthmatics and former smokers who can now set foot in Scotland's pubs for the first time in years, to enjoy the territory Moore and her team have helped them reclaim.

Waiters and bartenders have also benefited. Tests showed noticeable improvements in their lung function after only a few months, while byproducts of the metabolism of nicotine gradually disappeared from their blood with time. Other winners are restaurant chains like "Frankie & Benny's" and "Garfunkel's," which have seen double-digit growth in their sales, apparently because the food they serve now tastes better to their patrons.

The cigarette industry has lost out -- but only to a small extent. It has weathered the extensive smoking ban surprisingly well, even though cigarette advertising is now banned everywhere except where cigarettes are sold. According to the tobacco company Gallaher, whose brands include Benson & Hedges and Dunhill, sales in the Scottish market have declined by only 3 to 4 percent. British market leader Imperial Tobacco, the maker of the brands Davidoff and West, is also no longer fearful of a smoking ban, insisting that it has had little effect on sales. According to officials at Imperial Tobacco, after an initial drop in cigarette sales the Scottish market quickly returned to close to its pre-ban levels.

The ban's biggest losers are bingo halls, popular among chain-smoking women eager to try their luck. Eleven have already closed their doors in Scotland in recent months, and more will follow when the smoking ban extends to the rest of the United Kingdom by July. But the bingo hall industry was already on its last legs anyway.

It's a different story in Scotland's pubs. A number of the smallest pubs, especially in rural areas, have apparently suffered as a result of the smoking ban, with many of their patrons now preferring to drink and smoke at home. Nevertheless, a spokeswoman for the Scottish government says: "We are not aware of an increased rate of pub closings."

The prevailing sentiment among bar owners in Edinburgh is widespread relief. Many are delighted with the improved air quality -- and relieved to find that the slump predicted by the tobacco industry has failed to materialize.

Nothing to worry about

Café Royal is a famous pub and restaurant in downtown Edinburgh that caters to the employees of nearby banks and law firms who frequent the establishment for drinks or a snack after work. Valerie Graham, the pub's manager, has no complaints about turnover since the ban. True, she says, a few smokers have stopped coming as often, but families who would never have set foot in the Café Royal in the past have started coming instead. "When it comes to the smoking ban, you have nothing to worry about as long as you can offer a nice atmosphere, good drinks, good food and good service," says Graham.

But what about those establishments which don't have a kitchen or an upmarket clientele? The Blind Beggar is a biker bar in a more desolate part of town. Motorcycle parts adorn the walls and wild-looking men and women with multiple piercings sit on battered benches. The bartender sports a pink Mohawk haircut. It's hardly the bar of choice for Edinburgh's chic nonsmoking crowd.

Nevertheless, smokers at the Blind Beggar have shown tremendous discipline, just as they have done almost everywhere else in Scotland. They roll their own cigarettes and compliantly step outside to smoke them, complaining now and then about the "nanny state" they think they are now living in. They would rather smoke inside, but the fines for those who are caught -- £50 (€75) for violators and a steep £1,000 for the bar owner -- are enough of an incentive not to break the new rules.

Mark Forsyth, a co-owner of the Blind Beggar, smokes two packs a day outdoors. He says that he hasn't smoked less since the smoking ban took effect, but that he has been smoking "three times faster," especially in the winter. Instead of cutting into his sales, says Forsyth, the ban has in fact prompted him to make improvements, including adding a new dart board, a TV ("for the rugby fans"), live music and pub quizzes. He now sells snacks to help satisfy his patrons' oral cravings. "You have to give people something new to do," he says. The changes have apparently paid off. According to Forsyth, almost all of his regular patrons still frequent the new smoke-free Blind Beggar.

The new rules have had other unexpected benefits for Forsyth. "I used to have to sweep up hundreds of cigarette butts every morning and wipe out all the ashtrays. And I was constantly calling in the plumber to fish out the butts from my toilet drainpipes. All that smoking was just too dirty."

At the other end of town is Kay's Bar, a small, stylish place furnished with plush red sofas and decorated with old barrels, and which is aimed at a middle-class clientele. Dave MacKenzie, the owner, was vehemently opposed to the smoking ban and fought it as passionately "as if it had been about human rights."

But then the ban came and it didn't take MacKenzie long to change his mind. "Believe me," he now says, "it's the best thing that could have happened to me as a bar owner." His wife no longer complains about the stench of smoke in his clothes and hair when he comes home at night, and he no longer has sore throats. "The workplace has become much better without smoke," says MacKenzie.

The new era has also brought other surprises. With the smoke gone, MacKenzie suddenly began noticing the other smells that abounded in his establishment: cheap perfume, body odor and, last but not least, the men's room.

This prompted MacKenzie to embark on a long-overdue refurbishment. "I hired a special company to give the toilet a deep cleaning," he says. He also had new carpeting and new upholstery installed in the pub. That was almost a year ago, and there are still no cigarette burns -- unthinkable before the smoking ban.

MacKenzie's one complaint is that he is constantly sweeping the sidewalk, which his smoking patrons now use as an ashtray, prompting the city council to threaten to impose a £50 fine for putting out cigarettes on the street.

Sales at Kay's Bar have declined in the last 12 months -- not dramatically, but by "a few percent." But MacKenzie isn't worried. "Business goes up and down. I can't say that it's because of the smoking ban."

If the Scots had left it up to bar owners to determine whether to ban smoking in their pubs, Forsyth, MacKenzie and probably even Graham would have come down on the side of smokers, the rationale being that by banning smoking in their establishments they would have lost customers to competitors who chose to allow smoking. But a general smoking ban creates clear rules for bar owners, smokers and nonsmokers, rules that everyone has apparently readily accepted.

Wetherspoon, a stock market-listed pub chain, has also learned that the smoking ban wasn't as bad for business as expected. Far from fearing the coming smoking ban in the UK, as it once did, Wetherspoon, which operates 40 bars in Scotland, has seen a 5 percent rise in revenues since the Scottish ban came into effect. Apparently cleaner indoor air does wonders for patrons' appetites -- and their thirst for beer.

Paradoxically, Maureen Moore, the woman who initiated the smoking ban, is in a sense one of its losers. After having waged -- and won -- the battle of her life, she has made herself redundant and plans to retire from public life. But she is not leaving without recognition: Prince Charles awarded her the Order of the British Empire at Buckingham Palace shortly before Christmas.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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