Countdown On To Smoking Ban

Just yards separate them,but The Anchor and City Arms are world’s apart – or more accurately, they are country’s apart, sitting either side of the Welsh-English border.
In The Anchor, drinkers will be banned from puffing with their pints from April 2 according to Welsh Assembly Government legislation.

But in the City Arms, regulars can smoke until July 1 when England follows suit. In a scene which will be familiar to every pub on the border, Welsh locals are expected to laugh in the face of the law by jumping ship to England for those final three months of what smokers see as ‘freedom’. In turn, health lobbyists argue non-smokers who haven’t been to a pub in years may be tempted to cross Offa’s Dyke to enjoy a fag-free drink for the first time.

But landlords are unconvinced – they reckon the ban, whether it comes in April or July, is bad news for takings. Andy Jones, who runs The Anchor in Saltney, Flintshire, is expecting to lose thousands of pounds as a result of the new rules. He said: “Ninety per cent of my customers smoke and so do the staff.

“So far we’ve spent £1,500 on a shelter and £100 on signs and we are expecting to have to incur a loss of business. They are going to be laughing over the border for a couple of months, but then they will be in the same position. Customers can be fined £50 if they break the ban but the pub could be fined £2,500 – per occasion. Just one fine like that could put us out of business.”

Mandy Lloyd works across the border pulling pints in the City Arms. She said: “We are the last pub in England and they are the first pub in Wales, so we won’t be far behind them. But they are not going to be very happy, are they? But we’ll have to get used to it too soon enough.”

Businesses across Wales have already forked out millions of pounds on shelters, patios, outdoor bars and heaters in preparation for the ban.

Olly Hayden, landlord of the White Lion in Chepstow, said: “It has cost us a fortune, about £7,000 so far. That’s a couple of months’ worth of takings and 99 per cent of my customers smoke. I think pubs without gardens will suffer, you’ll see a big percentage of pubs close. If they cannot provide the facilities smokers will go elsewhere.”

Nick Bish, chief executive of pub trade body the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers, say Welsh pubs are at a disadvantage. “The difference in dates has not been helpful to the Welsh publican. English pubs have at least had a chance to get their heads around it,” he said. “April, May and June will not be too clever in Wales because there will be a level of migration. One fears there was a political agenda and the Welsh Assembly wanted to score points. It is hard to see why the ban is not coming in at the same time as in England. Three months’ difference seems unnecessary.

“It will be bad for some operators. That has been the experience in Ireland, New York, Scotland, Ireland, everywhere. Probably two or three per cent on a national level might have business failure. But business failure is 100 per cent for the people involved, as well as for the people who work there and the wider community. But politicians will forget these real personal tragedies and losses.”

Echoing his sentiments is Neil Williams, spokesman for the British Beer and Pub Association, who said: “It would have been better had the ban arrived at the same time. There will be an impact on trade but the extent of that is unknown at this time.”

Pro-tobacco group Forest says Scottish businesses have suffered badly and it expects the same in Wales. Spokesman Neil Rafferty said: “Scottish pubs are suffering and Scottish smokers feel victimised and marginalised. Bingo clubs, which are very important to working class communities in Scotland, have taken a terrible battering, at least a dozen have closed in the last year.

“It has been a s*** year. And I don’t think it will be any different in Wales. You will have a very similar experience. I’m not sure what the logic is of introducing your ban at a different time than in England.”

Even anti-smoking group Ash sympathised with border pubs – to a point. Spokesman John Griffiths said: “Businesses, particularly pubs in Welsh border areas, may see customers going across the border where they can smoke for the extra three months, but the evidence of that happening on a large scale is not great.”

Explaining the reason behind the ban, he said: “Wales is setting a good example by going smoke-free as soon as possible. It will save lives and encourage people to quit smoking. This is the most important public health measure for this generation.”

The Welsh Assembly argues there could be an influx of non-smokers to pubs keen to take advantage of the early implementation of the laws in Wales. A spokesman said: “Because our ban is enforced sooner people could come over from England to Wales to enjoy a pint. My understanding is that only 20 per cent of people actually smoke. And pubs don’t have to spend money building smoking shelters. That is purely a personal decision, there is no requirement.”

In January, Clwyd South Labour AM Karen Sinclair had argued for the Welsh ban to be delayed so it coincided with England’s because she feared pubs in border areas could suffer financially. But the vote went Health Minister Dr Brian Gibbons’ way and he cited health reasons rather than political ones for the spur to beat England to it.

That too is the tune coming from the Assembly song sheet. “We estimate 400 non-smokers a year die in Wales through the effects of second-hand smoke. By introducing this legislation we can reduce the effects of second-hand smoke and protect both the public and workers from heart disease, cancer, stroke and respiratory illness,” the Assembly spokesman said.