I occasionally dig out an email written by Baroness Elaine Murphy to Michael McFadden:
“Dear Mr McFadden,
You and many others have completely missed the point about smoking and health. The aim is reduce the public acceptability of smoking and the culture which surrounds it. We know that legislation which discourages all public smoking will have the better impact on public understanding and perception of smoking as an unacceptable habit. Hence fewer people will smoke, hence health overall will improve.”
About which MM remarked:
“Basically an admission that the smoking ban is based on a lie… the lie that it’s about secondary smoke and “protecting the workers’ health”.”
The real purpose of the smoking ban was to denormalise smoking, and get smokers to quit smoking.
Coming up towards 7 years into the UK public smoking ban, the verdict must be that it didn’t work. Smoking prevalence in Britain has hardly decreased at all. Smokers have carried on smoking on the streets, outside pubs (rather than inside them), and at home (very often in the company of friends whom they would have formerly met up with at pubs). The ISIS survey showed that in the UK after the 2007 ban, 70% of smokers frequented pubs and cafes less, and 35% much less or hardly at all. The same proportions stayed home correspondingly longer.
There have therefore been zero health benefits. Furthermore, the more that smokers stayed home, the less they were likely to spend, not just in the pubs and cafes from which they were now excluded, but everywhere else as well. Pub and cafe communities died. And pubs closed in their thousands. And with mounting punitive tobacco taxation, a black market in tobacco grew up, that deprived the government of tax revenues.
Why did Baroness Elaine Murphy think that something else would happen? Why did she believe that legislation would be successful in getting smokers to quit? Why did she write that “we know” that legislation will change public understanding and perception, and get people to quit smoking? What studies had she seen that to underpin such confident predictions?
It occurred to me today that, if there were such studies, many of them would have been carried out in the USA, in places like California where smoking bans had been in place for a decade or more. Such studies (in cities like San Francisco) may well have shown that in SF smoking bans attracted wide (and growing) public support, and that as a consequence fewer and fewer people in SF smoked. And while it had been feared that bars and cafes would lose customers, they actually gained customers. From this it was concluded that, when smoking bans were introduced, many smokers saw the light and quit smoking, and were glad to have done so. All they’d needed was the slight nudge of a smoking ban by an enlightened government. And so what had worked in San Francisco (and no doubt numerous other towns in the USA) would surely work everywhere else too. It was these studies that Baroness Murphy had seen, and were what lay behind her certainty.
However, assuming that such studies were carried out, and drew such conclusions, there’s another explanation for what happened. In the USA, there is no single federal USA-wide smoking ban, but instead a patchwork quilt of city and state bans. Smoking may be banned in one town, but it will often be permitted in some nearby town. So when a smoking ban was introduced in San Francisco, smokers simply drove to nearby towns to find bars and cafes in which they could smoke. And some of these smokers would maybe even have moved to live in those nearby towns. And as they moved out of SF, antismokers from the same nearby towns would start moving into smoke-free SF. And these incomers were the new customers who replaced the departing smokers. And as a consequence, SF surveys of residents would have shown that smoking ban popularity rose as time went by, the bars and cafes thrived, and fewer and fewer SF residents smoked.
However, it wasn’t that any smokers had quit smoking. They hadn’t. They’d just relocated.
And furthermore, once they had relocated, many of them became active in (successfully) preventing smoking bans being introduced at their new locations.
Anyway, using their survey data, antismoking activists (who hadn’t noticed any population movements) had drawn the conclusion that smoking bans worked extremely well to de-normalise smoking, and to get smokers to quit smoking. And they published this result in their journals, where it was avidly read by the likes of Baroness Elaine Murphy. Who in turn took these findings to the British government, and asked them to enact a UK smoking ban.
But the subsequent UK smoking ban was a “federal”, country-wide ban. There was no escaping it by driving to a nearby town, or across state borders, as in the USA. But – just like in the USA (see GaryK comment) – smokers didn’t quit smoking. Instead, this time they stayed home. Or they smoked on the streets, or outside pubs. There was nowhere else to go.
In this manner, what had seemed to work so well in San Francisco, and what Baroness Elaine Murphy was very confident would work in Britain, didn’t work at all in England and Scotland and Ireland. Or anywhere else.
In fact, it’s been a disaster. Because in the USA, as smokers and antismokers relocated by swapping places, everybody got what they wanted, more or less. And this probably meant that in the USA there was much less social and economic damage caused by smoking bans. Smokers carried on smoking, but in new bars and cafes in new towns, surrounded by new smoking friends. And the same was true for antismokers. But in the UK and Scotland and Ireland (and in fact everywhere blanket “federal” smoking bans were introduced) only antismokers won anything. And this is why there seem to be far more angry smokers (like me) in the UK than in the USA.
Anyway, this whole essay is built around the supposition that there were numerous US studies which seemed to show that smoking bans were effective in denormalising smoking and getting smokers to quit. Maybe one or two of my US friends might have seen or heard of such studies. Or might know where to look for them. Or have other comments to make.
If there is any truth to the foregoing analysis, it will mean that UK antismoking activists must be scratching their heads and wondering why smoking bans didn’t work like they were supposed to. Probably the UK and several other governments are wondering the same. In the meanwhile, antismoking activists have managed to get UK tobacco displays banned and almost succeeded in getting tobacco plain packaging introduced, as ineffective stop-gap measures to keep the ball rolling. But sooner or later countries which have introduced blanket smoking bans in the expectation of replicating San Francisco are going to have to recognise that It Didn’t Work. And that they’re going to have to do something else. And they probably have no idea what.