Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

The UK smoking ban, one month on

Filthy criminal!

So, the smoking ban’s been in force for a bit over a month, and no one seems to care too much, because the weather’s perked up a bit so smokers can shuffle outside without too much annoyance. The effects so far seem to be:

1) My favourite pubs being rather less busy, and frequented by far fewer regulars

2) Pubs having lost much of their atmosphere (ho ho, etc.), and feeling a lot less relaxed

3) Pubs appearing to have more than the usual number of idiots with no concept of pub etiquette getting in my way, queue-jumping, and failing to realise that pubs exist to provide alcoholic beverages, not cappuccinos that take the bar staff five minutes to make when they could be pulling me my pint

4) An increase in the number of vehement non-smokers who now think they have a God-given right to tell (note, not *ask*) smokers to stop puffing away, even when said smoker is my father enjoying a quiet cigar at an outside table next to a busy, highly-polluted main road, thus ruining my parents’ trip to the big smoke (geddit?) due to unnecessary aggression (easily soothed by nicotine, I find) caused by a moronic assumption that smoking has been banned in *all* public spaces, rather than just enclosed ones (despite months of expensive publicity)

5) Pavements outside pubs being impossible to walk along after about 6pm each evening due to the large number of smokers and their friends who have been forced outside

6) The untimely death of one man

7) The small, pointless plastic sign industry receiving a lovely, government-sponsored boom, as the bloody things must be displayed pretty much everywhere

Prime example of the last point – and the insanity of an inflexible blanket ban: wandering around central London in the sunshine over the weekend, for the first time I noticed that *every single public phone box* has been fitted with a “No Smoking” sign.

This despite the fact that:

a) fitting more than one adult into said booths is tricky at best, making passive smoking in the things a highly unlikely occurrence

b) the law was supposedly introduced to protect the health of employees who may have to breathe other people’s smoke while going about their jobs, and phone boxes have precisely no staff

c) pretty much everyone in the UK owns a mobile phone, making telephone boxes pretty much redundant

d) there are thousands of phone boxes in London alone, each of which will have been fitted with a government-approved plastic sign at a cost of £7.50 a pop (not to mention the additional cost of labour, adhesive, etc. to fit the things) – even with bulk-buying discounts, we’re talking tens of thousands of pounds pointlessly wasted

I, meanwhile, have cut down considerably to avoid mid-drinking-session nicotine withdrawal pangs, meaning that the government has already lost (based on approximate figures of percentage tax per packet) about £30 in tax from me alone in the last month.

Assuming, as an erstwhile ten-a-day smoker, that I’m moderately representative (and bearing in mind that I smoke the cheaper rolling tobacco, rather than factory-made fags), and that the number of smokers in the UK is still around 26% of the population, (or around 15.6 million), I make that a loss of £468 million in tax revenue in just one month – which, over the course of a year, would amount to 5.6 billion (more than the cost of the Iraq war from 2003 up to last summer).

And that’s before I even bother mentioning the tedious arguments about potential longer-term costs of a healthier population living longer, thus costing the government more in terms of pensions and old-age health care, or the likely drop in revenue (and thus taxes) in the pub trade.

So, could anyone who knows economics (Chris? Tim?) explain to me how the smoking ban can be remotely viable for the government in the long term? Surely the one-off sale of hundreds of thousands of little plastic “No Smoking” signs alone isn’t going to be anywhere near enough to replace the lost revenue?

(Oh, and sorry for the lack of posts of late – I’ve been both busy and lazy…)