Very interesting responses to last night’s post. The poll got about 90 responses [so far], and I was surprised that nearly 50% reported spending much less money since smoking bans came into force where they lived. I’d expected most people to say that they’d spent less, and one or two to say they’d been spending more.
This isn’t just spending in pubs and restaurants: this is just spending in general.
I put myself down for the ‘less money’ option. I probably go to pubs at 10% the rate I used to, and haven’t been on holiday for over two years.
Lecroix in Spain had some interesting figures about Spanish smokers’ attendance of bars, restaurants, etc, after the Spanish smoking ban that started in January 2011. Figures from OCU:
41.4% of those who smoke 5 cigarettes or less per day.
65.2% of those who smoke 5-15 per day.
82.1% of those who smoke over 15 per day.
40.6% of those who smoke 5 cigarettes or less per day.
77.3% of those who smoke 5-15 per day.
87.9% of those who smoke over 15 per day.
They polled online for a week back in 2011 among people of their own polling department. They got 1.562 answers.
Those are pretty hefty percentages. And they must be acting to deepen Spain’s deep recession.
Also Klaus K in Denmark dropped in a chart showing Danish spending before and after the Danish ban.
The shape of the decay curve in spending after the smoking ban interested me, because it was the kind of thing I expected. The impact of smoking bans isn’t immediate, but is a kind of slow avalanche as one thing leads to another. In Devon it took a few months for some of the pubs I used to frequent to more or less empty. Smokers hung around outside until winter came 6 months later. And it took me months to get over not having a pub to go to. And longer to see less and less of former friends. It’s a gradual process.
Then there were several anecdotes among the comments describing falls in spending. For example, Rose:
When people feel under siege they begin to act like it.
For example, where I would have bought a product, now I learn how to make it from the raw materials, and better if possible, every saving feels like a minor triumph. The breadmaker I was given for Christmas last year must have paid for itself several times over, not only bread, but chapatis, pizzas, hot cross buns, and stollens, each at a fraction of the price I would have paid without thinking about it.
But it all points to sharp falls in spending by 20% (or more) of the population wherever smoking bans are introduced. And the spending doesn’t recover. In the ISIS survey, I’m seeing enduring steep falls in pub-going 5 years after the UK ban came into force. Smokers went home, and they stayed home.
But nobody seems to have noticed.
If I was an economist working in the Treasury, I’d be calling for a large and comprehensive survey of both smokers and non-smokers to find out what their spending habits have been since the ban. And I think it would make pretty grim reading. I think it would show that smokers have stopped spending, not just in pubs, but everywhere else as well.
But to the best of my knowledge, no economists anywhere, inside the Treasury or outside, are calling for any such survey. Or if they’ve done one, they’re keeping very quiet about it.
I suspect they haven’t carried out any survey. Because while the smoking ban has been an earthquake for many smokers, for everyone else it was a complete non-event. I don’t think, for example, that any of my non-smoking friends has ever realised the impact it had on me, even though I’ve tried to tell them.
And a large part of that has probably been due the media coverage of the ban: there hasn’t been any. It was a media non-event. And for a lot of people, it seems that nothing really happens anywhere until the glowing box in the corner of the room says it’s happened.
But it’s also because smokers are a dispersed minority of people with no representation of any kind (such as a union). And most of them don’t complain. Back in Devon in the few months after the ban when I still saw them, my few pub acquaintances were unanimous in declaring that “there’s nothing that can be done about it, and there’s no point trying.” They even got angry when I disagreed and said there were all sorts of things they could do.
And because smokers tend not to complain, it means that when I raised the matter with non-smoking friends of mine, they most likely said to themselves, “Well, Frank seems to be the only one complaining. None of the other smokers we know are griping about it. So it’s probably his personal problem rather than a general social problem. Poor bastard doesn’t know what’s good for him.”
And the experience of Treasury economists is probably the same. They have those little glowing boxes in their sitting rooms too, and the boxes told them that there was nothing to be concerned about. And probably their smoking friends didn’t complain about it either. So they wouldn’t have any reason to call for a survey of smokers to find out what happened to them all. And also things like smoking bans aren’t a familiar sort of economic event for economists, who are probably fairly skilled at assessing the economic impacts of strikes, go-slows, earthquakes, etc. Smoking bans are new, and there’s little experience of their effects. And they’ve been introduced rapidly all over the world.
But I think also that a lot of people are consciously averting their eyes from the smokers standing outside the pubs in the rain, and shutting their ears to any complaints they might hear from them. And they do this because they think that smokers need to be nudged into giving up their fatal addiction, and they agree with the social engineering project that has been launched to eradicate the dreadful habit, because in the end the world will be a better place, once everyone stops smoking.
It all adds up to an enormous blind spot in their field of vision. There is nothing in the media to suggest any cause for concern, and most smokers don’t complain, and if they do they’ll be ignored. They might be very conscious of the travails of recognised at-risk social groups of one sort or other, and solicitous in helping them. But not smokers. They’re not on the list of approved, deserving minorities.
But, as I see it, the evidence is mounting that the uncomplaining smokers have stopped spending. All the figures I’ve quoted today say that. And the ISIS survey numbers I’m looking at say it too. Roughly a quarter of the populations of Europe and the UK and North America have stopped spending, and are staying home. It’s impossible at the moment to say what the economic impact of this has been, but even if it has produced a 2% fall in demand across these economies, it adds up to a substantial contributor to the global recession (except in places which don’t have bans yet).
If I’m right, then no amount of interest rate reductions, or tax cuts, or Quantitative Easing, or anything else will act to stimulate the economies of the Western world to resume growth. And, because there’s a slow consumption decay curve in the wake of smoking bans, consumption and spending will keep on gradually falling. And, when the economic stimuli that used to work don’t work, the economists will start looking for some other cause. And eventually they’ll consider smoking bans, and discover that smokers have stopped spending.
That’s when there’ll be calls to repeal smoking bans, and one country and state after another will start lifting bans, more or less at the same pace that they imposed them.
Yet it’s unlikely that this will have an immediate effect. Because just as there is a long slow decay curve in consumption after a ban, so the growth curve after bans are repealed will very likely have the same shape, but inverted.
And this means that if a ban has been in place for, say, 15 years, it will take another 15 years for its effects to wear off. Unless they start offering discounts or free drinks to smokers.
And I won’t be at all surprised if something like that actually happens.