Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Traditional pubs’ takings drop 25% after smoking ban

UK - PUB owners have suffered a 7.3% slump in sales since the smoking ban, according to a new poll.

But a startling 25% drop in takings was seen at some traditional pubs and working men’s clubs, which do not rely on food sales, the survey of more than 2,700 licensees found.

Some 58% said smokers were paying fewer visits to their pubs and 73% said customers who smoked were spending less time inside their pubs.

And although a quarter of respondents said more non-smokers were visiting their premises, they had seen an overall drop since the smoking ban came into force in Wales on April 2.

The poll was carried out by the Federation of Licensed Victuallers’ Associations (FLVA) and the BII (formerly British Institute of Innkeeping) who surveyed 2,708 licensees in Wales and England.

The BII predicts that around 5,000 pubs will close in the next three or four years accelerated by the ban.

The Welsh secretary of the FLVA is adamant the drops are due to the smoking ban.

John Price who runs the Bush Hotel, in Clydach Vale in the Rhondda said, “My takings are down 25%. A lot of my friends’ pubs are losing a lot, other pubs are losing a lot of money.

“The pub up the road from me is losing £1,500 per week and thinking of closing and takings at the local club, known as The Top Club, have fallen drastically.

“People are staying in and going to supermarkets to buy their alcohol because they can smoke at home. The worst thing about that is youngsters get the chance to get a beer from the fridge and drink it in the house.”

Miles Vaughan, chairman of the BII Wales, said sales at his pub have also plummeted.

He said, “I’m the tenant here at the Royal Victoria in Prestatyn and sales have gone down at least 25% if not 30% since the ban. It was predicted that pubs wouldn’t suffer because the people that didn’t smoke would go out and enjoy the atmosphere in public houses but this hasn’t happened.

“At a recent council meeting at the Churchill’s Hotel in Cardiff, there were 12 council members representing 20 pubs and only one said they had gained a new customer since the ban. Pub sales have been going down 5% every year over the last few years but the smoking ban was really the nail in the coffin for many.”

Mr Vaughan said that even those people that came out spent most of the night sitting outside so they didn’t drink that much.

The FLVA’s chief executive Tony Payne said 89% of survey respondents wanted rate relief for licensees who had lost business as a result of the smoking ban.

But ASH Wales, a voluntary organisation tackling tobacco use, said the ban was worth the benefit to public health.

Spokesperson Daniel Clayton said, “We know there’s been a fall in sales in pubs but the decrease is to do with the wet summer we’ve had and in part, due to the health message about drinking that’s in the news at present.

He added that in Scotland, 12 months after the ban, there had been no decrease in pub takings.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Bill Williams on Smokers Rights

As the founder of SmokingLobby.com, I was recently interviewed by a college student for a paper on smokers' rights. Since I already did all the writing, I figured I'd post it here as well:

Q. When did you first start smoking?

At age 18

Q. What does smoking do for you?

It's an enjoyable hobby.

Q. What do you smoke? Quantity per day?

1 pack/day

Q. Did you grow up in a smoking environment?

My father smoked for many years, but quit when I was 14, not due to health reasons. He's still alive and well at 83. My mother never smoked again once she became pregnant.

Q. When did you first promote smokers' rights? Have you always been fighting for rights of some kind?

I started in 2000 as a direct result of becoming fed up with TV ads for thetruth.com. I didn't like the fact that smokers were being villified and discriminated against just like other minorities, and felt we were being overly taxed without any representation. To this day tobacco tax increases and smokers have no say in the matter - we have no real "smoking lobby" in Washington lobbying for our rights. Then I started reading about the effects of secondhand smoke, and realized OSHA, the WHO, and other health organizations have actually determined that secondhand smoke is not harmful at all, so there is no need to demonize smokers, and no need to ban smoking. It has all been a large farce dreamed up by a few nuts who run anti-smoking groups and don't like the smell of smoke, so they lobby for smoking bans. And no, I have never bothered to fight for anyone's rights before this. I don't even donate to charity. And I hate children and small animals.

Q. Specifically, what do you hope to see accomplished for smokers' in the near future? What are you working towards?

All we really do is raise awareness of the fact that smokers are being censored and discriminated against, and taxed unfairly. I would love to see smoking bans overturned, but I'm far too lazy to get that involved.

Q. Right now, it is popular for civil rights advocacy groups to promote gay marriage rights. How do you justify what you do, when others might dismiss it as frivolous or only affecting a marginal amount of people (or, as the anti-smokers say, upsetting and harming a great many people)?

Smokers make up somewhere around 20% - 30% of the population, depending on who you listen to. Only 12% of America is African-American. Should we repeal the civil rights movements of the 60s since it only effects blacks? I don't know how many people are gay but I'm sure it's comparable, if not much less than, the amount of smokers in America. So why are these very small minority groups given rights, but smokers are denied them? It's because smokers are not a *vocal* minority, and because noone in mainstream liberal America will take up our cause. If no whites helped the black movement in the 60s there would be no movement. If straight liberals weren't pushing for gay marriage today it would never happen. Why? Because they can't swing a majority vote alone. Same goes for smokers. Even if we make up 30% of the population, we need 21% of everyone else to fight for our rights to get a majority vote to overturn smoking bans.

Q. How do smokers' rights benefit everybody?

In a free country, everyone's rights should be important. If the gov't and a small anti-smoking group can ban my activities, they can ban yours next. Like your chicken fried in oil? Not anymore - they banned trans fats. I think this is best answered with a poem by Pastor Martin Niemöller about the inactivity of German intellectuals following the Nazi rise to power:
When the Nazis came for the communists, I remained silent; I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats, I remained silent; I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists, I did not speak out; I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews, I remained silent; I wasn't a Jew.
When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.

Q. Have you attempted or considered any direct action protests? Were these successful? Why or why not?

I'm too lazy to get that involved. I see my involvement in the entire smoker's rights movement as one of distanced entitlement -- my motto is "I am better than everyone else, therefore I should be able to do what I want." Seriously. There are a lot of stupid people out there trying to pass laws which tell us what to do, how to behave, etc. Can't smoke here, can't eat that, gotta wear your seatbelt, etc. We are spiralling into a nanny state with the less intelligent few dictating the laws and actions the rest of us must follow. I would rather wait until the entire system destabilizes itself and then sweep in with a bloodless coup and take control of the White House. And then I would change the hiring system for gov't job applicants. Every position would require a simple IQ test. If you score less than 120, you can't serve in public office. If you score less than 100, you can't even drive. And if you score less than 80, we send you back home to the South with $5 and a bag of peanuts.

Q. What is your view of the U.S. Constitution? How do you justify smokers' rights by it?

I don't believe the consitution justifies any specific rights per se, it simplies protects the rights of free citizens. I shouldn't have to defend or justify my rights - smoking is a legal activity which hurts noone else. Thanks to our constitution, the burden of proof falls upon you to justify why you have a right to take some of mine away.

Q. How does the NY cultural climate help or hinder smokers? Is there more latitude here, or do you feel the line between the two opposing camps is drawn darker?

I guess it depends on who you talk to. Before the smoking ban, I don't think I could even find a non-smoker in a bar. It seemed like everyone was smoking everywhere. But the bar-going crowd tends to be a younger subset of the entire population. Today I don't think most people in bars care who smokes. Soon after the ban I forgot about it and lit up in a bar - several people actually cheered. Then the bouncer reminded me I had to go outside. But if you ask the older crowd, the family types who don't go to bars as much, or the conformist types who actually still own a gym membership in 2007, they are strongly against it. Unfortunately for us, those are the people who voted for the ban.

Q. Unlike racial minorities or homosexuals, people are not born smokers. This is a conscious choice, which is maybe why few non-smokers join in the fight for smokers' rights. How would you persuade a non-smoker to lobby for smokers' rights?

I think that is a poor comparison. There are many racial minorities who would be very upset to hear homosexuals compared to them - there is no definitive proof that homosexuality is a genetic trait. Regardless, everyone can quit. Smokers can quit smoking, just like homosexuals can stop being homosexual and people of ethnic diversity can have their skin bleached. If those sound like ridiculous suggestions, it's because they are. Smokers shouldn't have to quit.
Many things in life are choices, and we have to protect our right to choose. I may choose to eat meat. But if the meat lobby in Washington decided to pass laws making vegetarianism a crime, I would see the benefit in standing up for vegetarian rights. Not because I am one of them, but because I don't the idea of a gov't which censors and controls our personal behavior nor our free choices.
In order to persuade a non-smoker to help smokers' rights I would simply show them the findings and studies which demonstrate that second-hand smoke is simply not harmful. If non-smokers knew the truth, they wouldn't feel a need to ban smoking.

Q. You wrote: "In a free country, everyone's rights should be important." But in a country as large and diverse as America, rights will necessarily be competitive. One person's rights will impinge on another's rights. Smokers' status as a minority is fundamentally different than blacks or homosexuals since smokers choose their smoker identity. How can they vie for realized rights when smoking is not fundamental to their nature?

Again, a poor comparison. Just because I choose to smoke that does not make my right to smoke any less important. Some men choose to cross-dress like a woman, and that makes some people uncomfortable and even upset, but we don't ban or outlaw them. Some people choose to be Jewish, and we don't ban or outlaw them. Religion is not a genetic trait like ethnicity, so is that considered a less important right? I may be personally offended by seeing a Jew eating in the same restaurant as me just as easily as someone may be offended by seeing a smoker light up, so does that give me the right to request that all Jews be banned from restaurants?
We don't get to pick and choose the "popular" rights which we support in America, or at least we shouldn't. As long as smoking is legal, which it is, and hurts noone else, which it doesn't, it should be a protected right.

Q. Some anti-smokers desire restrictive policies on simple comfort grounds (eye irritation, smell, allergies; cf. smoking restrictions to No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service policies or No Pets Allowed). Can there be a compromise between these conflicting rights in a public space? What is your opinion on smoking sections or "glass cages"?

I definitely think so. I have no problem with smoking sections in restuarants or bars if they would agree with that compromise.
BUT - what we push most on smokinglobby.com is the right for business owners to choose. We should have bars or restaurants which are designated as Smoke-Free, or Smoke-Only. It should be entirely left up to the business owner - the gov't should not be telling private business owners what they can or can't do in their own establishment.

Q. Have you seen the film Thank You for Smoking? What was your reaction to it?

I thought it was a rather boring film and felt it had little to do with the smoking rights argument.

Q. You seem fairly convinced that smoking is not bad for your or anyone's health. Would your habit change if cigarettes were proven harmful to your health--beyond a doubt?

I think you misunderstood - I am convinced that smoking can be harmful to the smokers health - I just don't think secondhand smoke is harmful to anyone else. But I don't base this on my opinions - I cite many studies on smokinglobby which point out both of these points. So I know smoking may be dangerous, but yes I still do it. Because I don't think it's quite as dangerous as they want us all to believe. I know many smokers who have smoked for over 50 years and had no ill health effects. I have never met anyone who has cancer or any other illness due to smoking.

Q. What is the biggest or most frustrating challenge facing you as a smoker? Public space, taxation, or something else?

Personally, it is taxation and gov't censorship and the way in which small interest groups can pressure Washington through lobbying. I don't really care that much where I smoke, but I don't like the gov't passing legislation which effects our personal behaviour. I don't like what it can lead to. I believe in the next 10 years we will see laws, bans, etc., which will impact our diet and what we eat. NYC has already banned trans fats. It is not a far leap to assume they will begin banning how much we eat, because this is all driven by the insurance lobby.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Smoking Ban Kills Las Vegas Bar Business

LAS VEGAS, NV -- Revenue has dropped at many taverns - as much as 30 percent in some locations - because of a decline in customers, shooed away by the state smoking ban in establishments that serve food.

The prohibition against smoking, which took effect in January, sent gamblers who want to light up while playing slot machines to traditional casinos or one of the few taverns built before 1992 that have 35 slot machines and are exempt because the businesses were classified as casinos.

"There are a lot more challenges for an operator than ever before," said Joseph Wilcock, president of the Nevada Tavern Owners Association.

Wilcock estimates that 75 of the association's roughly 300 members gave up food service to keep their gambling and smoking patrons. Most of the membership, he said, is complying with the smoking ban "but are losing their shirts."

None, Wilcock said, wanted to give up the moneymaking slot machines.

Roger Sachs, co-owner of the three Las Vegas-area Steiner's taverns, said friendly service, good food and a lively atmosphere help keep customers from taking their business to a more traditional restaurant.

Sachs said the gambling devices made Steiner's three locations profitable.

Since January, however, revenues from the slot machines are off 29 percent to 35 percent at each location.

"We probably do as well on food as anybody because that's something we wanted to establish," Sachs said. "But other places might take a monthly loss of $10,000 on food, but made it up with the gaming. That's not the case now because the business is not there."

Herbst Gaming is Nevada's largest slot route operator with approximately 7,200 slot machines in 700 locations throughout the state.

In the third quarter, Herbst said revenues from the company's route operations were $66.1 million in the three months ended Sept. 30, a 21 percent drop over the same period in 2006.

For the first nine months of 2007, Herbst's slot route operations generated $212.5 million, 19 percent less than the same nine-month period in 2006.

"There is no question the smoking ban had a dramatic impact on our route operations and has fundamentally changed the slot route industry," Herbst Gaming President Ed Herbst told gaming analysts following the earnings release.

United Coin Machine, which operates about 6,000 machines in more than 400 locations statewide, is experiencing similar losses in revenue.

United Coin President Grant Lincoln said the smoking ban created an uneven playing field for the tavern operators, who don't have the promotional budgets to match the customer incentives offered by the large casinos.

"There's not a lot we can do," Lincoln said. "As their volume suffers, our volume suffers. The question is, have we truly bottomed out? The smoking issue has been a fairly crushing blow for the average tavern operator."