Thursday, 20 January 2011

Smoking in pubs: what I’d forgotten

The smoke stings, carcinogenic, poisonous, clingy, a weak-willed, watery eyed individual choice, lasts and lasts and an hour later it remains writhing on my jacket and in my skin. My choice entirely: a bar at Brussels station, looked roughish, hostel types hanging around, smoking, playing pinball, one chap drinking coffee, a fractured glass window part of the appeal, nostalgia de la boue, an antidote to the chain of food shops, four beers, Palm was one but Alken-Maes did for me, fresh and tangy, a small glass of, you can stick Jupiler and Stella — if I have to have a macro (mock?)-Pilsner to start the day with then M-A will do for me. Hours on, the smoke, the poison, the carcinogenic howl, the perverted science, all cling, hold on, clamber aboard, terrorists hijacking a train replete with nuclear waste. I’d forgotten the rigours of smoke-filled pubs, time spent in Belgium is time well spent being reminded of these rigours. Do I want them back? No.  


  1. Many people would actually like their pubs back.

  2. Sooo pleased we went into this after the smoking ban.Can't imagine what it must have been like before,very low ceilings etc, the smell must have filtered upstairs.We have a regular who makes regular trips to Amsterdam just so he can enjoy a smoke in the bar.

  3. Banning smoking in pubs is one of the most important steps to protect the nations health. The next step we need to take is to ensure no one drinks more than 3 units a day via a national ration system.

  4. I've got my pubs back and it's great. No more smoke being puffed in my face.

  5. With you totally on this one, Adrian. Is there no ban in Belgium or can you find smoke-free bars and restaurants?

    I don't know why it should seem brave to broach the subject, but maybe that's just me.

  6. God no. The stench clinging on your clothes was vile, glad its gone.

  7. Even as a smoker, I appreciated the smoking ban when it was introduced in Ireland. Pubs and bars in Dublin just became nicer places to be in for long periods of time, several times a week. When I moved to Northrhine-Westfalia, it was weird to go into a bar and be able to smoke. I didn't like it. More often than not, I preferred to go outside. Then the restrictions came there. Now I live in Baden-Württemberg, with similar restrictions, but once a month, I go to a cigar stammtisch in the Mosbacher Brauhaus, where smoking is allowed upstairs, and that's kinda nice, as there's a social reason to be there. But still, in general, I'm for such restrictions. Makes those "clubs" and small bars where you can smoke so much more special :)

  8. You haven't got your pubs back if they've closed down, have you? But that's the dog-in-the-manger attitude of the antismoker.

  9. "But still, in general, I'm for such restrictions."

    How many of the businesses mentioned do you own, Barry? Ballpark figure will do.

  10. This shows exactly why there should be CHOICE! So, you don't want a smoke filled pub/bar-I di, yet I don't smoke but I cannot stand the stench of cleaning fluids, BO and constant air fresheners-that is not a pub to me.
    You have your purist bars and let the smokers have theirs-let's see if we can stop this happening day in day out >>>

  11. I believe CAMRA has 100,000 members and as a real ale fan myself I guess that about 1 million drinkers are quite or very sympathetic to the real ale aspirations of CAMRA.

    About a third of the population describe themselves as regular pub goers, at least 3 times a month, about 20 million people.

    There are 12 million smokers in this country and pre ban they made up 54% of a pubs clientele, post ban 38% but still 49% of spending.

    So on the one hand we have 1 million CAMR'ites versus pre ban 10 million smokers who visited pubs. Also I am sure with CAMRA'ites my guess up to 15% smoke, including pipes and cigars.

    This easily explains why 7,000 pubs have closed, about 15% of the total since 2007.

    It easily explains why given the choice bars prefeer to allow smoking.

  12. Sorry made a mess of my maths, a third of the adult population would be 13 million not 20.

    So 7 million smokers were regular pub goers versus 1 million CAMRA'ites.

    The rest as is, sorry.

  13. Anyone would think there was once a law making it compulsory for pubs to permit smoking. Odd that the market takes care of every other preference but, with smoking, nobody was prepared to get rich by opening a smokefree pub- apart from the Hare and Hounds in Todmorden, which lasted a few months (must have been its location, eh). Why didn't you neurotics avoid cancer by going to it while it was open?

  14. You mean to say you went all the way to Brussels and chose to go into a bar that allowed smoking. You disliked it so much you spent 'hours' there. Then you complain.

    If you had any concern for your health or the environment you entered, you would have exercised you choice not have done this.

    No wonder the government brought in a law, because some people will spend hours in establishements they dislike.

    You are not free to make this choice in the UK and neither is anyone else. The law has to help you, otherwise you would make bad choices for yourself.

    Since you can not make choices in your own interest, you support using the force of law to deny others from making a free choice. Shame.

    Could you not just 'step outside' to drink your beer?

  15. Westcoast2, you really don't get it, do you? Smoking in public is as antisocial as playing very loud music in public. There are, rightly, laws against that, as well.

  16. But there are plenty of pubs in which very loud music is played - if you don't like it, you just don't go there.

  17. Good post and certainly one of the reasosn I don't visit Belgium as much as I used to.

    Don't waste your breath. Any piece on smoking in pubs gets the pro-smoking lobby trolls frothing. However, they are more interested in pushing their political agenda than a rational debate. They're not actually interested in pubs-it's just a convenient topic to bang their Libertarian views. The only one with any pub going credetionals is Curmudgeon; ironically a non-smoker. At least he admits to it being a matter of faith.

    That is the weakest arguement yet. Are you seriously still trying to peddle the discredited myth that the market knows best? The market is irrational and never best left untethered.

    Come now. I think you know that Martyn was making an analogy with the legislation that limits noise levels for our own good. It's back to what extent governments legislate in private business that serve the public.

  18. I can't wait until they ban booze from pubs. I can't stand the reek of it and it makes my clothes stink. I really don't see why I should
    have inhale the carcinogenic toxins of drinkers when I am trying to enjoy a diet coke and a nice meal in a pub. Just take take your drinks outside - it's not too much to ask is it? I would eat in pub much more often
    if they banned booze. I only know of one booze free pub in the UK at the moment and not many restaurants are booze free now but they will never be that popular until a level playing field is in place.

  19. "The only one with any pub going credetionals is Curmudgeon"

    {waves} Err, I grew up in a pub and managed it once old enough. Does that meet your criteria for being allowed an opinion?

    "The market is irrational and never best left untethered."

    Firstly, that's a massive generalisation and so debatable on many levels. Secondly, there's a difference between tethering, or restriction, and total prohibition. Curmudgeon makes that distinction with the noise analogy, we don't ban all venues from having loud music, we still allow choice because there is demand. The same should apply with smoking and pubs, especially taking into account the supposed justification for the ban.

    wv tritedin (how apposite) ;)

  20. Blimey, thanks all for the contributions, I’m still glad there is no smoking in pubs, but then it’s one of those issues like Europe, the Euro and hunting that we’ll never agree on.
    Westcoast2 if you read my piece I didn’t spend hours in the bar, I had one drink (the ‘hours’ related to the time ‘hours’ later when I could still smell in on my clothes), I went in for the slumming of it, used to live in Paris years ago and frequent dives occasionally and I just allowed myself some nostalgia and I wrote a piece about how I had forgotten what pubs were like — smoking didn’t stop me going to the pub in the old days, but I noticed how much I enjoy smoke free air, after all nobody does bonfires in the pub do they — I mean there was a couple snogging next to me on the tube today, their kisses sounded like fish guts slopping about on the floor, made me feel quite sick, wouldn’t mind bringing back the stocks for that.

    Maybe I just don’t understand smoking — I had several as a drunken student but never got into it, but on the other hand my father smoked Senior Service all his life and his lungs are like rags, he needs an oxygen tank etc, so I don’t have much sympathy for the joys of smoking (but neither do I tut tut and wave my hand about, you pick your own way to the Devil just don’t involve me or my clothes in it).

    Oh and Jerry — it’s a mixture, in Bruges it seemed that if you served food, even nuts, it has to be smoke free, Bruges Beertje is smoke-free, but Poetergat wasn’t and I had a divine Marriage Parfait there.

  21. "so I don’t have much sympathy for the joys of smoking (but neither do I tut tut and wave my hand about, you pick your own way to the Devil just don’t involve me or my clothes in it)."

    Fair enough, but the issue is not about whether or not people are smokers, or whether they find smoking unpleasant, but whether they support a tolerant situation whereby some pubs and bars permit smoking and some don't, or whether they want it stubbed out everywhere by law.

    As Josie Appleton says here, "As a libertarian non-smoker, I would prefer to live in a free society than one in which my personal preference is imposed by diktat. "

    All too often, the argument for a blanket ban seems to add up to nothing more than "I don't like it, so I want it banned. Everywhere."

  22. "I noticed how much I enjoy smoke free air"

    You do understand, don't you, that the vast majority of bars in Belgium are non-smoking by law?

    I mean, there are tons of non-smoking ones. For example, there is a square in the shadow of the EU buildings with about 15 bars and only one allows smoking. That's the state of play over there, but you - who enjoys smoke free air - go to one which Belgians obviously enjoy seeing as it is still solvent ... and then complain. Like they rely on your custom.

    Can you not see how arrogant and selfish that would appear?

    Doesn't that say more about your poor choice of venue in a country which is hugely pre-disposed to catering for your personal preference?

  23. You don’t get it do you, I didn’t go into complain about the smoke — I went in because I thought it would make for a picaresque few minutes before my next train, I wasn’t looking for a pub crawl, and as for looking for something to complain about if I wanted to become a policeman I would have joined the police, I’m a writer by trade and I wrote about the smoke and the effects that it had on me, playing with words, that’s why I do this blog. I was in the Harp in London on Tuesday night, it was rammed to the gills, that’s a non-smoker. We’ve not going to reach a concord on the subject are we?

  24. Adrian

    It is a bit ambiguous as initially the piece does give the impression of time passed after the visit however after describing selecting and drinking a beer comes 'hours on'. This gave the sense that time was passing while you were in the pub.

    Anyways my point simply being you had a choice (which you disliked) yet support denial of choice (apparently due to personal preference), a point Martyn seems to avoid as well.

  25. Do you believe that a pub in London which allowed smoking would not be packed to the gills too, Adrian? I reckon demand would be so great that they'd have to issue memberships.

    No, we're obviously not going to reach agreement because you appear to advocate total prohibition based on your personal preferences, whereas I say each to their own and who am I to decide what others may enjoy.

    I can always decide to not go there, see? It's called choice, and I always thought that was a 'good thing'. :)

  26. Yeah, by reading a lot of comments on here it is obvious how selfish people are. Passive smoking causes cancer. Instead of trying to give up smoking people stay at home and blow it all over their kids, who cough and wheeze because of your inability to stop. The reason you want it back in pubs is because it makes it less of a problem that you have. Because it isn't legal to do that, it is giving you a clear message how wrong it actually is and giving you the message that you have a problem. I want the smoking ban extended to houses and cars and eventually a ban on cigarette sales completely.