Many of my readers will know that, a month or two back, some of us teamed up to conduct a survey of the social impact of smoking bans on smokers. We put together an English questionnaire, and have had that translated into several languages (Spanish, French, Dutch, German, and Greek), and made available in a printable form. We even have our own website. This is my compact English version of the questionnaire:
I’m hoping that all concerned are now out and about stacking up responses to the questionnaire in their various countries (which include the USA and Canada). The main thing we still don’t yet have is a way of entering the data online. The code for this is half-written, and I’m hoping that in a week or two it will be working.
Everyone is going to have their own approach to polling. Some people are polling friends and family, or colleagues at work. Others are out on the streets. My own method has been to head off on warm, sunny afternoons to one country pub or other, buy a drink, and approach anyone I see smoking to ask if they’d like to spend a minute filling in a survey of the social impact of smoking bans. This requires a little bit of cheerful boldness on my part, but I’m usually capable of it.
In general, the responses have been positive. Only a couple of people have turned me down so far. Smokers have been interested, and often quite vocal as well. I’ve been gratified that people find the questionnaire quite straightforward, and usually complete it within a minute or so.
The downside has been that warm, sunny afternoons are the quietest times for English pubs, and several times I’ve driven miles and found no smokers at all.
All the same, over the past month or so, I’ve managed to accrue almost 30 responses. And over the next couple of months (after which the survey will end), I’m hoping to bring the total up to 100. If all pollsters manage to get numbers like that, we’ll have a grand total of around 2000 responses – although I imagine that some people will get nowhere near that number.
My 30 responses don’t constitute much of a survey in themselves, but the results have been quite interesting all the same.
Something like 70% of smokers report that they aren’t greatly affected by the smoking ban. These people report few negative impacts. For them, life has carried on much as before.
But for about 30% of smokers, there have been considerable impacts. These are the people who tick several places – pubs, workplaces, etc. – where the ban adversely affects them, and who also tick the ‘hardly ever’ or ‘much less’ or ‘much worse’ boxes. I’m a bit surprised to find so many of these. Before the survey began, I estimated that maybe only 10% of smokers were badly impacted by the UK smoking ban: it’s beginning to look like it may be a lot more. I’m particularly surprised because I know that many smokers (e.g. quite a few of my readers and commenters) never go to pubs at all now, not even to sit outside on sunny days. In fact, I don’t know how to find such smokers (except online).
But perhaps the most surprising thing is what’s not being said. And what most of my respondents are not saying is that they the smoking ban has had positive consequences for them. Hardly anyone is saying that they go to pubs and cafes more, or see more of their friends and family. The responses generally range from neutral to strongly negative.
There have been one or two positive responses though. One young lady, after ticking all the neutral boxes, remarked, “I quite like the ban: it’s been so much more sociable outside since the ban.”
Since I’m focusing on smokers, I have only got one non-smoker’s response. Surprisingly, he was strongly opposed to the ban. He didn’t like to have to go outside to be with his smoking pals. But I’m sure he isn’t representative of most non-smokers. Or maybe he is? Perhaps I should ask more of them.
But it’s early days, and my 30 responses don’t really mean very much. It will be very interesting to see what sort of picture emerges from the full survey. There may be striking differences from region to region, and country to country.
In many ways, it’s what people have to say (like the young lady above) that is almost as interesting as the boxes they tick. One middle aged man remarked that the smoking ban had “no impact whatsoever” on him, and duly ticked the appropriate boxes – but at the time he and his friends were standing outside a pub, furiously puffing away at cigarettes, prior to entering to have lunch inside. Wasn’t that an impact? Before the ban, they would have smoked inside, wouldn’t they?
Anyway, I’m hoping that a few of the other pollsters will read all this, and be encouraged to do more polling. And that they will report back to me, either here or on the other blog or by email) to let me know how it’s been going at their end, how many completed questionnaires they’ve got, what difficulties (if any) they’re encountering, and so on. It would help me to get at least a vague idea how it’s all going.