The Unhappy Shopper

I bought a painting a few months ago. It’s very unusual for me to buy a painting. I think the last time I bought a painting was when I was on holiday some time in about 1988. I tend to buy ‘useful’ things. Things that I can use. Like food and books and computers and whisky and tobacco.

It was a little watercolour painting, maybe about 9 inches square, of a very English country church surrounded by autumnal trees. It was in the window of a charity shop, lit by direct sunlight which brought all its colours to life – greens, browns, reds, yellows, blues -. It was a rainbow of a painting. And it was clearly the work of an accomplished watercolourist. It takes great skill to paint this way. I’ve tried and I just can’t do it.

And it was beautifully framed behind glass. And it was only 20 quid. And it really needed to be rescued from the bright sunlight shining on it.

So I bought it right then and there.

I was thinking about it today, and wondering why I’d bought it. What was I doing, strolling slowly along a street, looking in shop windows on a sunny afternoon, when I normally march briskly past with my eyes fixed in front of me?

And then I realised that the charity shop was just a few yards from one of the pubs I’ve come to frequent, and it all fell into place. I’d obviously just had a long slow pint at the pub, sitting outside in the sun, smoking cigarettes. And I’d come away from it feeling relaxed and cheerful, perhaps even slightly expansive. And I’d sauntered slowly up the road, in no hurry at all, until I’d chanced upon the painting. And if I hadn’t been into the pub and had a drink and a smoke, I wouldn’t have bought it.

People talk about the economic costs of smoking bans (if they admit there are any costs at all) as if they fall solely on pubs, as smokers like me desert them. But it’s much deeper than that. Smoking bans affect all trade. Because happy thriving pubs are full of happy, expansive people who will not only buy a few pints for themselves and their friends, but who will carry on doing the same once they’ve stepped cheerfully back out onto the street. Such people will buy all sorts of other things as well. They’ll buy flowers and presents and postcards. And paintings.

And they do so because they’re feeling happy and outgoing.

It was why I’d bought my first painting while I was on holiday in 1988. I’d probably come out of some pub or restaurant feeling rather mellow, and encountered it in much the same way. And it’s also why I always come back from any holiday anywhere laden with all sorts of things that I’d never normally buy.

Pubs and cafes aren’t just places where people go to refresh themselves. They’re centres of happiness and contentment. People go into them feeling thirsty or tired or anxious, and after a beer or a coffee or two, they feel a lot better – and a lot more inclined to stick around and spend money.

Or at least they used to be centres of happiness and contentment until the smoking ban came along. Now they’re much emptier. Non-smokers may enjoy them more, but smokers like me find no happiness or contentment inside any of them. And that means that we don’t spend inside them, and we don’t spend outside them either. We buy whatever we went out to buy, and then we go home, because there’s no longer any pleasure in going out, and we just want to get the job done as rapidly as possible.

And I’d guess that happy smokers and drinkers probably spend outside pubs 10 times what they spend inside them. And maybe happy fat people spend 20 times more (and it shows, bless ‘em!). And the economic loss from driving away smokers doesn’t just fall on pubs, but on all the shops and businesses that surround them.

And since smoking bans have made shopping a largely unhappy experience for the 20% to 25% of the population (sometimes much more) that smokes, nobody should be too surprised if sales of everything dip by something like 20% or 25%. Probably not as much as that, because after all I still go shopping. But I’m very definitely not a happy shopper these days.

And since smoking bans have been multiplying in the USA and Europe, perhaps it might help explain this:

The UK could be facing “the most serious financial crisis” ever seen, the governor of the Bank of England has warned after unveiling a surprise move to pump £75 billion into the ailing economy.

Sir Mervyn King’s stark comments last night that the economic crisis could be worse than the Depression of the 1930s came after the Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) voted to boost its quantitative easing (QE) programme – effectively printing more cash – from £200 billion to £275 billion and hold interest rates at 0.5%.

And this:

George Soros: “Financial markets are driving the world towards another Great Depression with incalculable political consequences. The authorities, particularly in Europe, have lost control of the situation.”

A Depression is something during which people stop spending.  And “depression” is actually a very good word for it. In a depression, people are depressed. They aren’t happy and outgoing and free-spending. Is it because they’ve got no money that they’re depressed? Or is it because they’re depressed that they won’t spend any money?

In my case, it’s very definitely the latter. I’ve got quite a bit of money that I could spend. But I don’t spend it. Because I no longer enjoy going shopping. And I no longer enjoy going to pubs and restaurants and cafes. And I no longer enjoy going to museums and art galleries and theatres. I’ve become an outcast in my own land. The only place that I enjoy being is at home. And all because of the smoking ban. There is no other reason.

It’s why I bang on about the smoking ban every day. It’s a dark shadow over the land. A shadow which extends everywhere, and over everything, and from which there is no escape.

And if we’re about to enter a global Depression, all I can say is that my own personal Depression began years ago on 1 July 2007, when – overnight – Britain became a horrible and depressing and unwelcoming place. If the world is entering a Depression, it will have just finally caught up with me, four years later.

And should anyone seek my advice as to how to escape from that Depression, well, my advice would be very simple. And it would be to…

Well, it’s so bleeding obvious really, what I would say, that I can’t be bothered to say it.

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40 Responses to The Unhappy Shopper

  1. harleyrider1978 says:

    Frank your gradiated now! Ive been saying for 4 years we were in a great depression.

    My one nick over at the defuncked MSN MONEYTALK site was GREATDEPRESSION1 let me tell you I followed those guys over there fpr 3 years starting in 08. You wouldnt believe the SHIT the FED has been up to over the last 4 -5 years. It appears they have a cash window for the banksters on wall street at the FED and all bernake has to do is call his buddys up and have them come down and then go buy up toxic assets on the DOW. They drive it up when its a sell off and its going down,then the short sellers figure it out and jump in on the ride! So far Ive heard numbers like 48 trillion dumped into the dow by the FED in the last 4 years. Bernake doesnt just print money,HE CREATES IT BY A MOUSE CLICK!

    Welcome to the greatest depression!

  2. harleyrider1978 says:

    TIME SHORT: UK PM says euro has just weeks to avert disaster…
    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/bd7d2ed0-f26e-11e0-824e-00144feab49a.html#axzz1aL4ZGoWt

    Major: We can use eurozone crisis to grab powers back from Brussels…

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2047052/John-Major-We-use-eurozone-debt-crisis-grab-powers-Brussels.html

    Sir John Major – who as prime minister signed up to the Maastricht Treaty – has joined calls for a renegotiation of Britain’s relationship with Brussels.

    His intervention piles further pressure on David Cameron to use the crisis in the eurozone to demand powers back from the European Union.

    The former premier caused surprise in Tory circles by saying yesterday that now is the time to insist on ‘looser’ ties with the EU.

    Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2047052/John-Major-We-use-eurozone-debt-crisis-grab-powers-Brussels.html#ixzz1aLHShDLB

    Its over Frank,THE EU IS DEAD!

  3. harleyrider1978 says:

    TIME SHORT: UK PM says euro has just weeks to avert disaster…
    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/bd7d2ed0-f26e-11e0-824e-00144feab49a.html#axzz1aL4ZGoWt

    Major: We can use eurozone crisis to grab powers back from Brussels…

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2047052/John-Major-We-use-eurozone-debt-crisis-grab-powers-Brussels.html
    .

  4. harleyrider1978 says:

    Sir John Major – who as prime minister signed up to the Maastricht Treaty – has joined calls for a renegotiation of Britain’s relationship with Brussels.

    His intervention piles further pressure on David Cameron to use the crisis in the eurozone to demand powers back from the European Union.

    The former premier caused surprise in Tory circles by saying yesterday that now is the time to insist on ‘looser’ ties with the EU.

    Its over Frank,THE EU IS DEAD!

    • Jax says:

      Ooh, Harley, I wouldn’t be so sure, nice though the thought would be. Bejeesus, you don’t live with these guys. Believe me, they’re like leeches – once they’ve gotten a hold they will fight tooth and nail to hang on to every last iota of power they’ve drained away from the nation states; also, because our Parliament (and, no doubt, every other Parliament in all of the member countries) is chock-full of carefully-placed drone-puppets who will do anything – and I mean anything – to keep the increasingly-shaky EU edifice standing upright, then it’s highly likely that this costly, idealistically-based political experiment will lumber on, mashing up freedoms, running roughshod over democracy and sucking everything that’s good out of each and every individual country for some while yet before it collapses in a big heap, amidst deep sighs of untold relief from countless millions of ordinary “EU citizens.”

      The Grey Man Major can spout off all he likes about “loosening ties” and “seizing opportunities” and “re-defining relationships” with Europe, but until his party (or any of the main parties, for that matter) actually back up those words with some concrete action then as far as I’m concerned, that’s all they’ll remain – just words.

      But hey, we watch and wait, Harley – we watch and wait across the whole of Europe, with our collective fingers all very tightly crossed ….!

  5. Frank, while it’s not exactly what’s usually meant by the term, you’re describing something akin to economic “multiplier effects.” A small change in single economic variable rippling out through all sorts of other variables to create an effect FAR larger than the original little one: an economic story of the old “For want of a nail, a horseshoe was lost…” story.

    If you look at the Economic Effects section of the “Lies” ( p. 16 & 17 — for new readers: http://kuneman.smokersclub.com/PASAN/StilettoGenv5h.pdf ) you’ll see what the multiplier effects of various state bans in the US seemed to do to their states’ economies.

    In my own life I can back up your story perfectly. We have a “strip” in downtown Philly that used to be the wild hippie/music/bar scene area back in the 70s/80s. Lots of fascinating little shops and bars, fun to walk along, full of interesting people out for fun. The ban here produced an instant and drastic effect on the larger level in the atmosphere of the street, and, on a micro-level, I found that my own trips there decreased enormously since it was a source of constant annoyance seeing all the people meekly cooperating with the unreasonable law and standing outside of mostly empty bars. My spending at the bars obviously went down, but I also wasn’t stopping into the neat old bookstore to buy books, or the hippie “gem and oddity” shop and buying geodes and funny little light-blinking weird things, or picking up a cheese-steak sandwich in the course of a long, slow, enjoyable afternoon. Heck, even the mass-transit system suffered since I wasn’t buying tokens to ferry me back and forth so often.

    How much effect have smoking bans REALLY had on the larger economy? Someday perhaps there’ll be some economists who are able to pick apart the datasets and really figure it out. The superficial work Dave K and I did in that Lies booklet (Full study is at: (http://www.smokersclubinc.com/economic.html ) may be superficial, but the story it tells is persuasive nonetheless: multiplier effects of bans DO exist, and they may be MUCH larger than generally recognized.

    – MJM

    • Frank Davis says:

      Someday perhaps there’ll be some economists who are able to pick apart the datasets and really figure it out.

      But wouldn’t that be like those epidemiological studies that try to “pick apart the datasets” and show who died of what?

      The first problem, in both cases, is that there’s not very much trustworthy data. In epidemiology, as Gary K keeps on pointing out, we have conflicting “data”, and if you’ve been diagnosed with cancer of some sort there’s a pretty good chance that you don’t have it. It’s the same with the economy really. Where’s the data? If you read the accounts of some corporation, you’re quite often (like with Enron) looking at an elaborate fraud. And maybe the same is true with some little bar on a corner in Philly. Or with people’s tax returns.

      And even if you had good data, could you do it? Could you say that this little spike in sales last Thursday was because it was sunny that day. And that little drop in sales was because everyone was watching the big game? Or the slight lowering of sales over the past 12 years was 3% due to people moving away, and 17% of it was because of smokers staying home, and so on?

      • Gary K. says:

        “And even if you had good data, could you do it?”

        It would depend upon what you wanted the data to show(your bias).

        Local Italian place had to ban inhouse smoking.

        They now do a great deal of take-out and home delivery of their foods.

        Data shows they have maintained the same amount of business; but, their waitstaff qualify for food stamps, due to loss of tips.

  6. Walt says:

    I’ll back you up too. Why go to the theater, especially at today’s outrageous prices, when there’s nowhere to have dinner first or a drink after to discuss it at leisure? So I don’t. Gone is the joy in a jazz bar. Smoke goes with jazz like it goes with the Scotch. Shopping? In and out for necessities. I recall (tho the memory is rapidly fading) taking time out to contemplate major purchases (a new rug, say) by stopping in the store’s coffee shop for coffee and a smoke, over which I might have decided, “Let’s do it” and gone back and bought it. Without that contemplative break, I go home. Without buying. A woman friend told me she hasn’t bought an actual dress since the ban. Why bother? she said. There’s no place to wear it. OTOH, I don’t give a s**t about my negative effect on the economy, I care about the negative effect on my life.

    BTW, you’re lucky to have pubs with outdoor smoking. Here in Bloomburg (formerly New York City), almost all the outdoor spaces– the few gardens, the street cafes– are themselves no smoking, partly bec. the law is that smoking isn’t allowed if there’s so much as an awning or a pitiful umbrella, and partly bec. New Yorkers as a lot demand “smoke-free” air on a traffic clogged street.

    • Frank Davis says:

      Gone is the joy in a jazz bar. Smoke goes with jazz like it goes with the Scotch.

      Whenever I think of New York I think of little bars, maybe in Greenwich Village or someplace, where Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong and all the rest of them played, maybe starting in the Prohibition years as speakeasies. And I wonder what they’re like now, in Bloomberg’s New York. And what the musicians think of it.

  7. Martha says:

    I can agree too, before the ban I and my two (grown-up) daughters used to spend every Tuesday wandering around our indoor shopping centre, trying on shoes and clothes, checking out all the testers in Boots, having lunch in one of the many eateries and coming home with bags of stuff… Now we buy online and when we ever go near the place its merely to pay a bill at the bank, in out and go home.

  8. Rose says:

    “A woman friend told me she hasn’t bought an actual dress since the ban. Why bother? she said. There’s no place to wear it. ”

    Same here.

  9. Brenda says:

    I have saved an absolute fortune since the ban.

    No new clothes, no hair do’s,, no make up, no pubs/clubs/restaurnts/cafes etc., no holidays, no taxis. No shopping as I just go out for food essentials and shop online for household necessities.

    Am I happy with my new found wealth ? No…I bloody well hate the social isolation and depression that the smoking bans have caused. I am no longer living. I am existing as a total outcast.

    • chris sorochin says:

      Why not use the money you’ve saved for a holiday in some smoker-friendly part of the world? And while you’re there, send postcards to your politicians explaining how you came to be spending your money there instead of at home.

      • Frank Davis says:

        It’s getting harder and harder. I used to go to Spain every year, but they’ve now got a pretty stringent smoking ban too (since Jan 2011).

        The politicians pay no attention anyway. For many of them, smokers are non-persons, as far as I can see. All the main parties are pro-ban.

        • chris sorochin says:

          But there are still quite a few places to go. Greece springs to mind. And you might want to include the Spanish tourist board in your postcard list. I used to visit Ireland regularly and stopped when they put in the ban. I did send Bord Failte a postcard (ironically from Scotland, still free territory in 2004).

          Smokers are not the first people to be deemed non-persons by politicians and it’s a sure bet we won’t be the last. The main thing is to keep banging on and not get discouraged. Gandhi said that what we do may seem insignificant, but it’s important that we do it.

      • harleyrider1978 says:

        kENTUCKYS NICE THIS TIME OF YEAR and a smokers paradise!

  10. lleweton says:

    I remember the trad jazz bands in the 1950s clubs and pubs, the trumpet players often with a lit cigarette between the fingers of one hand while working the valves with the other. I met my wife in a Chelsea jazz pub 50 years ago last January ….

  11. Gary K. says:

    ” The main thing is to keep banging on and not get discouraged.”

    I respectfully disagree.
    When people lose hope, they become angry.

    When large groups of angry people start shouting at the politicians, they will pay attention.

    Laws will be passed in order to save their jobs and the lobbyists be damned!!!

  12. Rose says:

    WHO chief accuses ‘big tobacco’ of dirty tricks

    “The World Health Organization’s chief on Monday urged governments to unite against “big tobacco”, as she accused the industry of dirty tricks, bullying and immorality in its quest to keep people smoking.

    WHO director-general Margaret Chan accused cashed-up tobacco firms of using lawsuits to try and subvert national laws and international conventions aimed at curbing cigarette sales.

    “It is horrific to think that an industry known for its dirty tricks and dirty laundry could be allowed to trump what is clearly in the public’s best interests,” Chan said at a WHO meeting in the Philippine capital on Monday.

    Chan cited legal actions by the tobacco industry against anti-smoking measures in Australia and Uruguay, saying these were “scare tactics” intended to frighten other countries from following suit.
    “It is hard for any country to bear the financial burden of this kind of litigation, but most especially so for small countries,” she said.

    “Big tobacco can afford to hire the best lawyers and PR firms that money can buy. Big money can speak louder than any moral, ethical or public health argument and can trample even the most damning scientific evidence”.
    http://medicalxpress.com/news/2011-10-chief-accuses-big-tobacco-dirty.html

    It’s difficult to know where to begin.

    • Frank Davis says:

      It seems to be a key part of antismoking strategy to keep Big Tobacco as a Bad Guy they’re fighting, and thereby keep their image as Good Guys. But the number of lies they tell in the process have long since had me come to the conclusion that Tobacco Control are the Bad Guys.

      Jonathan Bagley has an example of the way ASH lie, leaving out a paragraph from a newspaper report.

      • Gary K. says:

        “It seems to be a key part of antismoking strategy to keep Big Tobacco as a Bad Guy they’re fighting, and thereby keep their image as Good Guys.”

        This is called mis-directing people’s attention.

        Just as a street thief will distract you while they are stealing from you.

        “Big money can speak louder than any moral, ethical or public health argument and can trample even the most damning scientific evidence”.

        In other words, they are doing what we have been doing and that is not fair.

      • harleyrider1978 says:

        The Distinction between the Antismoking and Nonsmokers’ Rights Movements
        Journal article by Ronald E. Shor, Marilyn B. Shor, Daniel C. Williams; Journal of Psychology, Vol. 106, 1980

        http://www.questia.com/googleScholar.qst?docId=77539715

      • Junican says:

        Re HR’s comment of 938pm.

        I did not read all the article since it was from 1980 (not that it matters), but what struck me immediately was this:

        It is a psychogical battle. It isn’t always obvious that the zealots have been wooing the non-smokers for years -deliberately exagerating in every way possible in order to frighten non-smokers into fighting their battles for them and becoming anti-smokers. They have succeeded. There is no doubt in my mind that SHS is harmless to children in normal circumstances, but the zealots have pushed ‘the children’ relentlessly and remorselessly.

        I wonder if this is one of the reasons that the zealots are fighting tooth and nail to avoid releasing the data about youth smoking?

  13. Gary K. says:

    Just a thought; but, suppose the tobacco companies told the Aussie govt that selling cigs in Australia was more of a problem than the profits were worth.

    Suppose they said that they could survive without the profits from Australia and as of the 15th of Oct they were going to stop selling cigs there.

    If the Aussie govt wanted the taxes from cigs, they could produce cigs themselves. That way they could tax to their hearts content and package the cigs anyway that they wanted.

    The black market and the very angry smokers would be the govt’s problem and the cig companies had no concern.

    Perhaps the Aussie govt would get help from WHO? LMAO

  14. Rose says:

    “The World Health Organization’s chief on Monday urged governments to unite against “big tobacco”, as she accused the industry of dirty tricks, bullying and immorality in its quest to keep people smoking.”

    It does rather remind you of the school bully who having spent all lunch time tormenting the smallest child, in this case the customer, suddenly lets out a piercing yell and starts weeping when a teacher appears. “Sir, he hit me”

    Perhaps we will get round to “bigger boys made me do it” eventually.

  15. harleyrider1978 says:

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    http://www.cafepress.ca/+non_smokers_are_pussies_sticker_bumper,357843110

  16. Jax says:

    I’m so glad I’m not the only one, Frank. I live in a big town and I’m just walking distance away from all the shops and pubs and restaurants and cafes, and it used to be a regular (and enjoyable) part of every single weekend for me just mooching around the shops, browsing, window-shopping, stopping for a beer and some lunch, and then sometimes buying something that I knew I needed or, it there wasn’t anything I needed, then impulse buying – often quite expensively. I rarely came back from a shopping trip empty-handed. Sometimes I’d meet some girlfriends, sometimes I’d go with the OH, and sometimes just wander around on my own. But these days I hate – and actively avoid – going into the town; and when I do it’s a quick route-march to wherever I’ve got to go, buy whatever stuff I need and then head back for home. Very occasionally, if I’m meeting my OH in the town we’ll meet at a pub, have one swift drink and then whizz off and do whatever we’ve got to do before getting ourselves home again a.s.a.p.

    There’s no doubt in my mind that my enjoyment of my weekend shopping-sprees coincided almost exactly with the implementation of the smoking ban. It disappeared almost overnight. And the ironic thing is that I never used to smoke at all whilst I was shopping (who does??), so it isn’t just about the smoking versus not-smoking thing – it’s something much deeper than that, and I think that you’ve hit the nail squarely on the head with your article. I think that the smoking ban really, genuinely changed something very fundamental in the British psyche. And although they probably don’t make the connection, I think that even non-smokers feel it too. My OH – previously (and unusually for a bloke) very much the shopaholic of the two of us – now can’t be bothered to go shop-mooching any more, not even on his own, and says that it just isn’t the fun it used to be. And he’s never smoked a day in his life.

    The same applies to social events and going out in the evening. Neither I nor he can be bothered any more – things have just lost their sparkle since the smoking ban. And again, my non-smoking OH has said (unprompted by me, I hasten to add) exactly the same thing. So, like Brenda, I have saved an enormous amount of money since the ban (far more, incidentally, than I actually spend on cigarettes, even though I’m now smoking more of them). And I’m just one person. Imagine if you multiply that by around 10-12 million people!

    So who knows, maybe there really is something in all those theories about smoking bans being at the root of the global world recession. I certainly think they’ve got a lot to do with the UK’s present financial predicament. All those excuses such as bad Government decisions, too much credit, high prices and internet shopping are merely hastily-scrambled-together attempts to explain a situation which is failing for the one reason that they won’t admit ….

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  18. Iro Cyr says:

    Reading your article and people’s comments makes me feel less of a ”weirdo”. I thought that it was only me that no longer took pleasure in going out anywhere except friends’ homes. I hardly buy new clothes anymore, or go to the hairdresser’s (I do my own hair now), or spend any significant amount of money at restaurants. I do everything out of necessity in an in and out kind of way. The result? I save so much money that I pay myself up to 3 trips per year in smoker friendly countries where I don’t feel like an outcast. As a matter of fact I just got back from Cuba where at least 40% of the tourists were smoking, where noone looked at you as if you were an alien because you smoked, where they still have a smoking room at the airport, and where you can smoke everywhere in the hotel except closed dining rooms and the auditorium. As a bonus you can get British imported cigarettes for $2.40 per pack or $17.00 per carton with absolutely no health warnings on them!!

    I don’t know if the smoking bans created the present world crisis but I can confidently say that they certainly haven’t helped in the least. Greece has now rescinded their smoking bans for 300 sq m & over nightclubs and bars (against hefty fees mind you) in an effort to redress the economy. It says it all right there.

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