Last month I wrote to public health minister Anne Milton who seems to believe that there is little or no correlation between smoking bans and pub closures. I don't make a habit of making public letters sent to MPs, ministers or civil servants, but there are exceptions to every rule.
My letter was sent on behalf of the Save Our Pubs & Clubs campaign:
Rt Hon Anne Milton MP
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Public Health
Department of Health
London SW1A 2NS
Pub closures and the smoking ban
You are quoted in the Morning Advertiser on 25 November declaring that “there is little, if any, evidence that would link the closure of pubs and clubs to the introduction of [the smoking bans]”.
A quick look at a report in the Guardian (12 April 2010) should give pause for thought. This sets out the British Beer and Pub Association research on pub numbers in the UK from 1980 to the present. These data are part of a series stretching back decades.
Over the period 1990-2010 the total number of pubs has indeed shown a long-term decline from around 63,500 to 52,000:
UK pub numbers 1990-2010
(source British Beer and Pub Association)
However, a little analysis demonstrates the considerable acceleration of the trend from the end of 2006 – the last data point before the bans in England, Wales and N Ireland.
The period from 2006-10 showed an average closure rate of 2.7% a year - over four times as fast as the long-term trend of 0.6%. In other words, on average more than a thousand more pubs closed each year after the bans than before.
Years Change in UK pub numbers
Average trend ... pubs closed per year
Pre-ban (1990-2006) -0.60% ... 331
Post-ban (2006-10) -2.70% ... 1550
Given the frequent references to the impact of the smoking ban by licensed trade associations and companies this is likely to be much more than just a coincidence.
Please find attached a research paper that examines the pub closure data in more detail. This shows an almost exact correlation between the rates of decline in pub numbers in Scotland, England, Wales and even the Republic of Ireland, when viewed in comparison to the varying dates of their bans.
All of these data are publicly available. Given the commitment of the Government to a private sector-led recovery, the closure of more than a thousand businesses a year in a key part of the economy surely requires a more thorough investigation and review.
I look forward to your response and hope that the Government will review its decision not to review the smoking ban in accordance with a commitment given by the previous government.
Yesterday I received a reply - not from Anne Milton (who is too busy schmoozing with ASH!!) - but from someone in the DH's "Customer Service Centre" which sounds more like something you'd find in Kwik Fit than a government department.
Needless to say, the DH has completely ignored the gist of my letter (I expected nothing else), but judge for yourself:
Dear Mr Clark
Thank you for your letter to Anne Milton about smokefree legislation. I have been asked to reply.
In preparing the smokefree legislation, the Government of the time considered the possible economic impact on pubs and the hospitality trade of taking action on secondhand smoke. A Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) was published alongside the Healtj Bill. The RIA contains estimates of cost and benefits of legislation to end smoking in enclosed public places and workplaces. A copy is available on the Department of Health website at www.dh.gov.uk.
Closures in the pub industry and general hospitality sector were covered at the time of Parliament's consideration of the legislation in 2005/2006 and the Regulatory Impact Assessment published at that time includes the following statement (paragraph 323 on page 10, final sentence):
Given the evidence from other countries, as well as in England, the Department of Health understands that it is likely to be prevailing economic, structural and cultural issues, rather than the introduction of smoke-free legilation, which will be primary cause of any significant decline in the sector.
The Government believes that people should have the choice to smoke, but that it is also right that people are both made aware of the major health risks of smoking and are provided with support to quit.
Therefore, by increasing the information available about the dangers of smoking and providing support to individuals who want to stop, the Government can hope to reduce smoking by helping people make the choice or not to start or to give up.
At the same time, it is right that others should be protected from exposure to harzardous secondhand tobacco smoke. The smokefree legislation eliminates smoking in virtually every enclosed public place and workplace in this country.
There is a clear evidence that the smokefree legislation is working very well and almost all enclosed workspaces and public places are free from secondhand smoke. Many families are now voluntarily making their homes smokefree, reducing children's exposure to secondhand smoke.
Public support for the smokefree law is high and continues to grow. Even a majority of smokers now support the law. Because of this, ministers see no reason to review it.
I should also point out that the smokefree provisions in the Health Act 2006 were carried on free votes across all parties by large majorities in both Houses of Parliament. This Parliamentary support for smokefree legislation reflected the very widespread public support.
Smoking is the largest single cause of preventable illness and premature death in the UK. It kills over 100,000 people every year and a recent academic study suggests that the cost to the British taxpayer is more than £5 billion a year. It causes 84 per cent of deaths from lung cancer and 83 per cent of deaths from chronic obstructive lung disease, including bronchitis.
Medical and scientific evidence also shows that exposure to secondhand smoke increases the risk of serious medical conditions such as lung cancer, heart disease, asthma attacks, childhood respiratory disease, sudden infant death syndrome and reduced lung function.
I realise that this reply is likely to be disappointing, but I hope it clarifies the Department's position on the matter.
Customer Service Centre
Now, I'm not naive enough to have expected any other reply, but it is interesting that rather than address the issue of pub closures that have occurred since the smoking ban, the DH continues to quote from the Regulatory Impact Assessment that was carried out in advance of the smoking ban, despite the very clear evidence that the number of pub closures has increased enormously in the period since the ban.
I'm not going to fisk the DH's letter line by line because I can't be bothered, but one line does annoy me: "Parliamentary support for smokefree legislation reflected the very widespread public support".
I don't need to tell readers of this blog that this is simply not true. It may reflect opinion polls commissioned by ASH (that offered people a straight choice between smoking or smokefree without the option of, for example, separate smoking rooms) but it certainly doesn't reflect the surveys carried out by the Government's own Office for National Statistics that consistently found that a substantial majority (approximately 70 per cent) were opposed to a comprehensive ban.
Of course public opinion has changed a bit as non-smokers (and even some smokers) have got used to smokefree pubs and clubs, but not as much as the tobacco control lobby would have as believe.
On a more positive note, the response from the DH may be disappointing (if unsurprising) but the tone of the letter is well, neutral, and that is a significant improvement on previous years. Others too have commented upon the fact that, under Labour, letters from the DH were cool if not downright hostile.
Sure, public health minister Anne Milton and ASH's Deborah Arnott are birds of a feather. But until we hear more about the Coalition Government's tobacco control strategy it's not all doom and gloom.
Our understanding is that, unlike the previous regime, the new Government is at least listening, even if they spout the same old mantra. So my message is, keep writing to the DH and the relevant ministers.
More important, if you haven't already done so, is to write to your local MP. By and large, organised letter writing campaigns don't work. They're easy to spot and MPs will usually ignore them. A letter from an individual constituent - that's different.
Feel free to recycle the statistics in my letter to Anne Milton but the letter should be in your own words and no more than two sides of A4. You can also send them a copy of our Smoking Gun report.
Let me know if you get a response.