Last orders: All change for Britain's bars

Government plans to introduce a public smoking ban and tackle binge drinking spell radical changes for Britain's 60,000 pubs and bars.

Friday August 6 2004: You’re sitting in your local at 10.30pm, enjoying your sixth pint with friends.

Fellow drinkers sidle by, the smoke from their cigarettes filling the air. You hear raised voices coming from the corner of the room- two rowdy teenagers decide to take their minor disagreement outside and turn it into a punch-up.

You don’t bat an eyelid. After all, aren’t these just the elements that define Britain’s watering holes?

Friday August 6 2020: Back in the same pub and you want to go up and get another pint-but the landlord thinks you’ve had enough and won’t serve you.

You hear voices of celebration from behind - a family are celebrating an elderly relative’s birthday.

The only smoke in the room is coming from the blown-out candles on their birthday cake.

Reality
Unimaginable it may be now, but the scene above may yet become a reality with plans to ban smoking in public and curb Britain’s excessive drinking culture.

The move towards a ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces is gathering pace. At the Labour Party’s National Policy Forum on July 24, it was announced Britain’s pubs need to draw up plans to introduce smoking restrictions, paving the way for a future national ban.

In addition, Home Office figures released last month showed alcohol played a part in nearly half of the one million violent incidents recorded in 2003 in England and Wales.

The Government now plans on cutting crime by 15 per cent by 2008 - and that means tackling the issue of alcohol misuse in conjunction with those who sell alcohol.

And if there’s one institution these proposals are going to affect, it’s the good old British pub. How are they going to change the one place where drinking and smoking have come to define its very nature?

Stamping out smoking

A ban on smoking in public will literally change the atmosphere in Britain’s drinking establishments.

The British Medical Association (BMA) is placing pressure on the Government to ban smoking in public places following findings which showed a 50-60 per cent increased risk of heart disease among non-smokers exposed to others’ cigarette smoke, compared with the 25-30 per cent first thought.

Overall, they estimate around 1,000 people die every year from passive smoking.

And people working in the hospitality industry are shown to be at particular risk. A survey by the Royal College of Physicians unveiled in May stated one hospitality worker in the UK dies a week from the effects of passive smoking.

Tobacco smoke contains over 4,000 chemicals and more than 50 of these cause cancer. Long-term exposure to second-hand cigarette smoke can lead to heart disease, lung cancer and the development of asthma.

A ban on smoking in public aims to protect those working in the hospitality industry - including pubs - to make them healthier places for punters.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber supports a ban. He says: “Ending the exposure of workers to second-hand tobacco smoke would not only save hundreds of lives every year, it would also help reduce the levels of asthma and other smoke-related diseases in the hospitality and other related industries.”

And already some pub chains are implementing complete smoking bans, despite concerns from some landlords who fear a ban will affect business. The Laurel Pub Company are aiming to convert 10 per cent of their pubs to complete non-smoking premises by the end of the year.

It’s a change likely to drastically alter the atmosphere down your local. Can you imagine a pub with completely smoke-free air? And what will happen to the man who has been smoking his pipe in the same spot for the past 50 years?

Support

Despite these changes, a ban also seems to have the support of punters.

A survey by Mintel in May showed more than half (52 per cent) of Britons are in favour of a total ban on smoking in public places, including pubs. Even among smokers, almost three in ten favoured a ban.

Health Secretary John Reid outlined a ‘phased’ strategy at the policy forum, which means gradually introducing smoking restrictions. So by a certain date 25 per cent of all tables in pubs must become non-smoking. This will then increase to 50 and 75 per cent over a number of years towards a complete ban.

It follows the voluntary 1999 Public Places Charter drawn up between The Charter Group, made up of 14 hospitality trade associations and the Department of Health, which encourages pubs to introduce non-smoking areas and better ventilation systems.

Yet in May this year the Government decided this voluntary approach was not working, leading towards current moves towards a ban.

However, Simon Clark, director of smokers’ rights group FOREST, says a total ban on smoking indoors should be a last resort, not a first option.

"The hospitality industry should be able to choose policies on smoking that best suit individual businesses,” he adds.

Battling the booze

Alongside smoking, proposals to tackle binge drinking look set to contribute to changes in our pubs too.

Britain has a notorious binge drinking culture- we prefer ‘mass’ as opposed to ‘moderate’, consumption of alcohol, the latter being favoured by our friends on the Mediterranean.

This attitude not only leads to an upward incline on the chart marked ‘Crimes caused by intoxication’ but also to the atmosphere it creates in our pubs.

Most pubs at the weekend are filled with students and young professionals out for a good time, devoid of all responsibility with a carefree, often rowdy attitude creating an environment which may put off older people and their families from visiting their local.

The Government hopes by tackling our binge drinking culture not only will crime levels go down, but pubs will become friendlier places where families can go out for a drink together without fear of someone vomiting next to their table.


Bomb

The argument in favour of promoting a more moderate approach to drinking is strengthened when taking into account the effect excessive drinking has on the nation’s health, as well as the crime statistics.

What actually constitutes ‘binge drinking’ is hard to tie down, but Alcohol Concern, a group which work to tackle the causes of alcohol misuse, defines it as: “Drinking sufficient alcohol to reach a state of intoxication on one occasion in the course of one drinking session.”

A survey carried out by the Cabinet Office in 2003 found 40 per cent of all male drinking occasions are binge-drinking sessions; 22 per cent are for women. This kind of drinking is most associated with the 16 to 24-year-old age group, which includes increasing numbers of women.

Drinking too much, too young suggests a bomb may be ticking in the livers and arteries of the nation’s young boozers.

Excessive drinking over time is associated with liver failure, cancer, heart failure and loss of brain cells. There are 33,000 deaths a year from alcohol misuse, with increasing numbers of deaths due to alcohol-related liver cirrhosis.

Plans underway

Moves to tackle the violent and health risks of alcohol misuse are already underway. This summer police have been cracking down on drunken yobs who cause violence in pubs and town centres, a measure which forms part of the Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy (AHRS), introduced in March.

The AHRS also included the formation of a Code of Good Conduct for retailers, pubs and clubs to ensure better enforcement of existing rules on serving people who are already drunk and the use of exclusion orders for drunken trouble-makers.

The strategy has received support from the pub industry. Rob Hayward, Chief Executive of the British Beer and Pub Association.

He says: “We all recognise the need for concerted action to tackle the minority who misuse alcohol and are the cause of alcohol fuelled anti-social behaviour. This strategy is a key cornerstone in that campaign.”

24-hour drinking

And no longer will it be necessary to get drunk before 11pm either. The Licensing Act 2003, which will take effect from the start of next year, will enable pubs to apply for licences to allow them to remain open for 24 hours.

By allowing extended opening hours the Government hopes to promote a more responsible approach to drinking, making pubs friendlier and more relaxed places for a wider range of people.

Some pub chains have already announced they want to extend their opening hours. The Yates Group say their premises in the larger cities such London and Glasgow will remain open until 4am while Pathfinder Pubs want their high street venues to close at 2am.

So whether you’re a smoker or non-smoker, binge-drinker or tee-totaller, the pub you find yourself in on Friday may look very different in a few years time.