Tuesday 27 June 2017

The Plague Of Public Health Part 3 – The Virtual World

In the last of this series, it is time to take a look at the business consequences of prohibition as the persecuted turn away from the real world, forced into the shadows.

This is the third and final instalment of a series of blog entries entitled 'The Plague Of Public Health'. Part 1 is called The Black Market whilst Part 2 is named Going Underground.

There used to be a time when pubs, clubs, snooker halls, bingo halls etc up and down the country would be full to flowing with customers on most days of the week – and there were lots of them around to sate the thirst of such consumers. Indeed, when I started frequenting pubs in the late 1970’s, it was very rare for me to enter my local and not find at least somebody drinking in the pub whom I did not know well enough to have a long conversation with over a pint. Pubs (and clubs) in those days were usually smoke-filled venues, with the fug of cigarette smoke usually most visibly illuminated in the lights over the pool table, or in the spot-lamps lighting up the dartboard. Indeed, it was the way it had always been and the way most of us thought it always would be. In those days you were not greeted with a disgusted (fake) cough everytime you lit up a cigarette. We were all adults, and adults could be trusted to make their own choices in life. Nobody batted an eyelid at all the smoking in bars. If you did not like it, then you knew not to go there (or to go in to the Lounge where you would be less likely to see such things).

Little did we know that the first signs of prohibition were already starting to make noises. Only a decade later, an ever growing army of public health busybodies and ‘charities’ were finding their voices and bending the ear of both politicians and the main stream media (MSM). The 90’s were the decade when also saw the first indications of things to come when many pubs across the land started allocating non-smoking areas. Some pubs went even further and became totally smoke-free, until the financial realities hit them in the bottom-line – their pockets. It quickly became apparent to such premises that making smokers unwelcome in their pubs had a big drop in trade as a result. The first mainstream pub-chain to try it was Wetherspoons (though they waited until 2005 to try it out). The resultant drop in profits soon saw them rescind the idea.

Yes, pubs were closing down throughout the 80’s and 90’s, but these tended to be pubs that did not offer much in the way of creature comforts for their customers (there were a lot of such pubs around at that time). It was not for lack of genuine custom as the majority of pubs would still be full to flowing on most days of the week. Friday & Saturday nights would find you 7-8 deep at the bar of the more popular venues that offered some sort of entertainment – be it a live band, a disco or even the ubiquitous karaoke. Sunday lunchtime was still a landmark occasion for most drinkers – the last chance for a decent few beers before the inevitable return to work on the Monday morning. Indeed, urban pubs also had weekday lunchtimes to look forward to as it was still common for many workers to enjoy a lunchtime pint during their workday - something that would be frowned upon now.

In 2006 however, things began to change. In Scotland, Government brought in legislation to make all workplaces smoke-free. As a pub or club was classed as a workplace, it meant that smoking was stubbed out inside such premises with immediate effect. In April 2007, Wales followed suit and finally in July 2007 so did England and Northern Ireland. This all happened in face of numerous polls available at the time which showed little public support for enacting such a ban. Indeed, most people were completely indifferent to whether smoking should be allowed. I was a smoker at the time and can still remember being caught out by the date differences in England and Wales. I worked away during the week in England and for three brief months I could still smoke in the pub there. However, when back in Wales, I could not smoke in a pub anymore as the ban was already in force. A fact I forgot about on several occasions.  

We had entered a new era, prohibition claimed its first major victory. There were a few places that decided to test the new law in the courts. Others tried to ignore the new law. All were clamped down on severely. Because the bans came in during the summer months, initially there were no noticeable differences in trade as smokers happily gathered outside to chat, drink & smoke. The real difference happened when the weather cooled and we moved into the winter months. By that time people were no longer prepared to freeze to death in the rain or snow just to have a cigarette. So they started going out to pubs much less (I know, I was one of them).

It is now a decade since the smoking ban came into force in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (11 years in Scotland). Many of the younger generation now drinking in pubs have never experienced what a pub was like before the smoking ban. 

Yesterday, FOREST published their paper – The Road To Ruin. The Impact Of The Smoking Ban On Pubs And Personal Choice – and what follows is a few of the facts and figures I gleaned from that publication and reproduced courtesy of the kind permission of FOREST.

I am not going to go through the whole paper here. You can read it for yourself in the link provided above, and I do recommend you read it as it is a very well written paper. However, I did want to pick out a few pertinent points from their report  for this blog entry.

  • The smoking ban has had a major impact on pub closures that increased significantly following bans in Scotland, England and Wales
  • Since the introduction of the smoking ban in England in July 2007 over 10,500 pubs have closed, almost 20% of the pub estate a decade ago. In Wales over 860 pubs have closed, approximately 21% of the pub estate in 2007
  • Pubs hardest hit by the smoking ban were in urban, inner-city or economically deprived communities
  • The smoking ban also came at the price of two important principles: freedom of choice and personal responsibility
  • Pubs play an important role in many communities and the loss of the local pub has arguably led to increased isolation and loneliness

The above is just a subset of all the points Forest make in their paper. But it is a pretty damning list. In every community up and down the country, people can see for themselves how many pubs have closed down. Many communities no longer have a pub at all. In my immediate locality, where once there was 7 pubs/clubs, now there are only 3. In the nearest large connurbation (outside of the centre of the City), where once there were 15 pubs or clubs, now only 4 remain. Every single pub or club in both localities are struggling severely and it is very rare to find a sizeable crowd in any of them. Also, the majority of the surviving pubs are now almost exclusively food places rather than bars. There is not a single wet-led pub to be found.

People who try to deny that the smoking ban had any effect on pub closures are living in la-la-land quite frankly. The evidence is there to be seen.

So where have all the drinkers gone ?

As alluded to in an earlier blog, the younger generation (18-24) show little interest in pub-going. Many of them choose to be alcohol-abstinent. Of the older generations, it has to be said that many of the biggest drinkers (and therefore biggest customers to pubs) were also smokers. It is ever growing numbers of those smokers who are now staying away in droves. They see little point in visiting premises where they are not made welcome and so they do not bother. They simply stay at home and drink the cheaper booze that can be purchased at the supermarkets and enjoy a stress-free cigarette with their drink in comfort and warmth.

As a Vaper, i find similar problems to smokers. Yes, there are a few pubs that are happy to allow me to Vape in their bars. But there are also a great many that do not allow vaping. I do not drink in a pub that does not allow vaping. I refuse to give them my custom. However, even where vaping is allowed, I often find that there is always someone who will complain about my vaping. I will often fight my corner against these people and show them how ignorant they are. But to be perfectly honest, it is more enjoyable to make like the smokers and simply stay at home in the warm with some beer and where I can vape to my hearts content.

But have we lost the social aspect of drinking due to all this prohibition. Well, the answer to that is Yes and No. Yes we have certainly lost physical aspect of going to an actual bricks & mortar pub for a drink. Most pubs are now so devoid of life that I see little point in visiting them – vaping allowed or not.

However, in the modern ‘connected’ world, it is entirely possible to remain in contact (in real time) with friends on different continents, let alone your own locality. If you have been reading Frank Davis’ blog over the last week or two, you will know that he has set up his own virtual pub which he has christened his ‘Smoky Drinky Bar’ and that he regularly hosts several of his friends for a chat, drink and smoke. His virtual bar even has its own ‘pub’ background that they all appear in. However, Frank does complain about occasional technical problems and that he cannot have more than 10 people in the bar at any one time as he won’t pay for the ‘professional’ version of the software/website he uses. What his bar is like I cannot answer as I am not part of Frank’s circle of friends and as a vaper, rather than a smoker, I doubt I would be welcomed anyway. But I believe that @Dick_Puddlecote has been known to drop in from time to time.

However, there are other ways of having a virtual bar using the internet. Google Hangouts are an obvious choice and I believe Skype also has certain video conferencing abilities. But if you are not too bothered about being able to actually see the person you are talking to, then there are plenty of other ways that this virtual world can be exploited. I do this and so do many of my online friends.

Indeed, most evenings I can be found at my computer having a drink and a vape whilst chatting happily to friends all around the world simply through using Twitter. Those that are on Facebook (not me) can also have a conversation in a similar way through this virtual world.

The virtual world, via the internet, has enabled whole new communities to spring up involving people from all parts of the planet chatting, socialising, drinking, smoking, vaping to their heart’s content from the comfort of their own home, away from the glare and persecution of the nannying class. THAT is where all the drinkers have gone and why pubs are struggling and closing in droves.

Public Health drove the smokers (and the vapers in many cases) out of the public spaces we all used to socialise in (i.e. pubs & clubs) through discrimination, oppresion and spite. They bear a big responsibility for the number of pub businesses that have closed down across the country, taking much needed employment opportunities away from the masses. So those of us who are fed up of being oppressed  have all said a big ‘fuck you’ to public health and created our own virtual community where they cannot touch or control us. Ultimately, Public Health have killed off the pub trade through their spiteful policies such as the smoking ban which removes personal choice and responsibility, and replaced them with 'restaurants that have an alcohol licence'. In a few years time they will be bemoaning the fact that they have nowhere to go other than a restaurant for a night out as there will not be enough genuine pubs left surviving. The irony will be lost on Public Health that when that happens it is all their fault.

Public Health – The two words are an oxymoron when used together. They neither understand the public nor care about its health. They certainly do not care or understand how businesses work.

We can defeat the Puritans by ignoring them.

Thank-you for sticking with me on this three-parter. I am not as eloquent at writing as many of my fellow bloggers are, but I hope  this series of blogs about Public Health have given you cause to think and that you enjoyed reading it.


  1. A brilliant series of blogs. God how I miss the old pub!

  2. Excellent series, very well said!

  3. Thankyou both. Not often I have much to say these days

  4. Worth the read and right on the mark.
    As an anti-anti smoker, I suspect you'd not be made to feel unwelcome at Frank Davis' Smoky Drinky Pub.

  5. A fine end to a wonderfully written blog trilogy. Personally, I find it thrilling to be seen vaping in outdoor social settings. I don't circumvent rules or reg's while doing so, but I do seek them out. I see it as a teaching moment when approached. Vaping is still a new technology to many of whom smoke & don't.

  6. I really enjoyed this eloquent Trilogy- do you mind if I share on with our followers on Twitter?

    1. Of course you can shre it. The intention of the trilogy is to be thought-provoking about the consequences of prohibition