Saturday, 1 July 2017

Ten years gone

Today sees the tenth anniversary of the introduction of the blanket smoking ban in England on 1 July 2007. As the ticker in the sidebar shows, since then over 17,000 pubs have closed in the country. While it’s not the sole cause, nobody with any knowledge of the industry can deny that it has been the single biggest factor in pub closures, particularly affecting the smaller, working-class, wet-led boozers. It has been an absolute disaster for the pub trade, exceeding the best efforts of Lloyd George, the Kaiser and Hitler combined.

At the time, the advocates of the ban were insistent that smoking was very much a special case, and there was no way it would represent the start of a slippery slope. However, as time went by, this has proved to be increasingly untrue, with more and more examples of the public health lobby seeking to extend the smoking ban template to alcohol, soft drinks and “unhealthy” food. As the redoubtable Christopher Snowdon has said, “It wouldn’t be possible unless cigarettes hadn’t happened first.”

It isn’t simply a case of the ban having a devastating effect on pubs, and setting a precedent for other areas – it is grossly objectionable in its own right. It is a fundamentally illiberal, intolerant and hateful piece of legislation. “But,” some people say, “smoking is utterly foul. How can you tolerate it in public places?” However, that isn’t the point. There are plenty of things that other people do that I regard as extremely unpleasant, but I don’t want to see them banned so long as they don’t impinge on me.

It was already the case by the middle of 2007 that you could easily go through life without ever encountering smoking in indoor public places. It was banned on trains and buses, in hospitals and doctors’ surgeries, and in workplaces was generally confined to separate rooms. Pretty much all restaurants and food-led pubs were either predominantly non-smoking, or had a large non-smoking section.

Realistically, the only place you were likely to encounter it was in the drinking sections of pubs and bars, and even there, if it mattered sufficiently to you, it was much easier to find a non-smoking area than the antismokers now claim. Various compromises short of a full ban were proposed, but none were judged acceptable. But anything that allowed the continuation of some amount of indoor smoking, even if just confined to some areas of some pubs, would have been better than nothing. I’ve often thought that a reasonable compromise would have been to ban smoking in any areas of pubs where under-18s were admitted, which would in effect have killed two birds with one stone!

What is astonishing, though, is how so many people who claim to stand up for pubs still cling doggedly to their support of the ban, in the face of all the evidence of wholesale pub closures and the extension of the principle to alcohol. It would be welcome if they could say “Well, I was in favour of the ban back in 2007, but the effects have been far worse than I expected. With hindsight, surely some kind of compromise solution would have been better.” I don’t expect you to lift a finger to campaign against it, just have the decency to admit you were wrong. But people are remarkably reluctant to do that.

So, if anyone now is complaining about pub closures while still holding to the view that the ban was a good idea, their words ring completely hollow. It is an exercise in the most breathtaking and contemptible hypocrisy. Not happy with all those closed and boarded pubs? Well, if you supported the ban, you should be pleased to see them. You got what you wanted. And you have to wonder whether they will give similar misguided approval to other pieces of pub-destroying legislation that may be on the cards…

Some people will say “Well, the smoking ban was ten years ago. It’s water under the bridge now. Isn’t it time to accept it and move on?” But, if something is wrong, the passage of time doesn’t make it any less wrong. It was wrong in 2007, it is wrong now, and if it lasts a thousand years it will still be just as wrong. And it’s impossible to understand the current situation of the pub trade without recognising the damage that the ban has wrought.

I also can’t help feeling that, in an age when the expression of prejudice against others on the grounds of race, gender or sexual orientation is rightly very much frowned upon, a lot of the pent-up hatred ends up being directed at smokers, where it is considered not only acceptable but politically correct.

For further reading, here are three pieces from some of the ban’s staunchest and most outspoken opponents.

Dick Puddlecote: The Illiberal Ruinous And Pointless Smoking Ban

Christopher Snowdon: Myths and realities of the smoking ban - 10 years on

Rob Lyons: How the Smoking Ban Killed off the Local Boozer

As he concludes:

When we tot up the pros and cons of the ban, we should remember the damage it has done to many local pubs and the communities that they serve. It’s true that many people dislike cigarette smoke and may well be happier that they can drink in pubs more comfortably now. But it could have been possible to accommodate changing attitudes without the absolutism of the health lobby. Better ventilation, separate smoking rooms and more could have provided a perfectly workable compromise. Instead, we’ve lost many of our boozers with little benefit to health and at a substantial cost to businesses, customers and, above all, to personal choice.

49 comments:

  1. If you go back ten years the consensus was by and large that the EU was a small issue cared about sincerely by few people but irrelevant to most people. That banging on about it got you nowhere. Look what they won. So maybe there is merit in keeping banging on about it.

    It is worth noting that those anti EU “nutters” were better organised & had better advocates & better funding & more exposure in the mainstream media than your merry bunch so you might want to think on how you proceed from here. Bloggery is getting you all nowhere.

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    1. Perhaps now that he's achieved Brexit Nige should turn his attentions to the smoking ban ;-)

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    2. Sadly Nigel Farage used smokers to gain more support for the EU Out vote and once done, he and his party dumped their promise to smokers and even removed from the manifesto the pledge to amend the smoking ban in pubs to suit all. For this alone, should the EU vote come back, I'll be voting IN.

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    3. I always thought you were a closet "Kipper", Cooking Lager.

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  2. "nobody with any knowledge of the industry can deny that it has been the single biggest factor in pub closures"

    I have yet to see any solid evidence supporting this (oft-made) assertion; most of the (less partizan) commentators seem to conclude that it's impossible to pin the decline of pubs on any one cause - lots of things changed around the same time, the rapid rise of beer duty, changing demographics, a drop in drinking in general, the rise of the supermarket beer, etc, etc. It seems improbably that lifting the ban tomorrow would stop pubs closing.

    I'm exceedingly happy to be proved wrong, of course!

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    1. "It seems improbably that lifting the ban tomorrow would stop pubs closing."
      Well, let's do it and see what happens! At the moment there are not enough
      young people going to pubs to replace the current users. I have no statistics to back this up other than my own observation that pubs do not have as many young people in them as they did before the ban. And I think the reason for this is that a restaurant full of middle aged people eating food is not that exciting for young people. Pubs have become restaurants
      and it is hard to think that the smoking ban played no role in this.

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    2. Since only 5% of 18-25 year olds smoke I doubt that lifting the ban would encourage many of them back to the pub

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    3. I think that the fact that young people can chat on line has a lot to do with them not visiting pubs.

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    4. David,
      I take your point but I don't think non-smoking 18-25 year old wants to party at restaurants full of middle aged people eating food either. My non-smoking friends went to the same places I did when I started drinking and they were not restaurants! When I was that age I did not want to be any where near that sort of place and neither did my non-smoking friends.
      And in any case 1 in 5 people in this age group smoke and not 5% !

      https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/healthandlifeexpectancies/bulletins/adultsmokinghabitsingreatbritain/2015

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    5. KJP, Yes I think you are right and I find it a bit sad that these age groups can not experience the same fun that I had in pubs at that age and younger!

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    6. Well, given that there are so many factors involved, it's impossible to prove anything beyond reasonable doubt, especially to people who are determined not to be convinced. But, as I wrote here, there's a huge weight of anecdotal evidence that the ban has been extremely damaging to the "wet" pub trade.

      And, if brewers and pub operators say it has damaged their trade and forced them to change their business model, who am I to argue?

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    7. I think that over the long term less youngsters drinking has probably done more damage to pubs as a whole, but the smoking ban was what put people out of business at the time. Trying to adapt to not getting new customers while being asked to make a lot of your existing customers stand on the pavement outside was always going to be a tough job.

      The economy, lifestyle changes and social media were always going to cause big problems for the trade, but saddling them with the smoking ban happened at the worst possible time.

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  3. Do you have any solid evidence that the smoking ban is the main driver of pub closures? A very sharp knee in the rate of closure graph eigth to ten years ago perhaps?

    The many other reasons why pubs are not able to remain open have been discussed ad nauseaum on this blog. Noy least of which is the un business like attitude of many landlords as discussed here http://www.langtoncapital.co.uk/2016/08/uk-pubs-a-great-institution-but/

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  4. The Blocked Dwarf1 July 2017 at 12:57

    "Do you have any solid evidence that the smoking ban is the main driver of pub closures?"

    One might also ask, while we're asking for 'evidence', for some solid evidence-or any evidence at all- that Second Hand Smoke (or was it 'third'? I get confused by all the capnophobe's claims) does anything more than mean a few people with personal hygiene issues are forced to wash more than once a week? And let's NOT ask for some solid evidence that smoking actually causes any of the myriad of fatal diseases that it is claimed because the answer (ie 'very bloody little') will only cause my stomach acid levels to rise.


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  5. Have a look at the graphs on the BBC piece

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-40444460

    Notice anything?

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    1. Yes. There is no spectacular fall in the two years after 2005

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    2. According to the BBPA beer sales stats, between July 2005 and June 2007, beer sales in pubs fell by 7.8%. Between July 2007 and June 2009, they fell by 14.4%. So about double the rate of decline.

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    3. The financial crash happened between 2007 and 2009.

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    4. In 2008 actually, after the acceleration in pub closures had began. For a more convincing demonstration, look at Irish and Scottish pub closures following the respective 2004 and 2005 bans - during a period of strong economic growth.

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    5. Correction. Scottish ban came into force in March 2006.

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    6. Correction. Scottish ban came into force in March 2006.

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  6. I can prove that 3 pubs shut because of the ban as the people who stopped going told me so and I know the landlords personally. All wet led, keg only pubs with substantial week-day after-work trade. Site workers after 4pm and factory after 6. They would do substantial trade up until 8-9pm Mon-Thur then quieten off.

    The ban had an almost instant effect in cutting that trade because those punters were going for a very specific reason, to relax after hard (often very physical) work, before going home for dinner and prepring for another day of slog. When the smokers stopped going, their mates also stopped going and when that happened the few who were left started to thin out as there was no craic in an empty pub in the early evening. After a while some of those people also started to stop coming at the week-end.

    Those, heavily working class, back-street, food-free boozers were already only just providing a living to their landlords/landladies. The tie, crazy business rates, increasing rent and constant harrassment from the clipboard brigade at the council did not finish them off. These things hit their pockets, put pressure on already thin margins and increased their already ridiculous working hours as they were foced to shed staff

    But the smoking ban, unlike all the other problems, actually removed punters from the bar. The domino effect began and sooner or later the savings run out and you have to walk.

    It is this type of pub that has been murdered by the smoking ban. Not the sort of place that the ban's advocates would deign to visit. Not the sort of area where people talk about hop terroir or food-pairings. But the last community back-bone of already depressed areas where me and my mates would meet for a few beers, a chat and yes maybe a ciggie. Pubs that don't get in the guides, don't get covered by the self-appointed double-barrelled beer gurus on the internet. Pubs that provided a meagre living to one or two people who've put their whole life into keeping them open.

    The group who've been hardest hit among my acquaintences are working single men, often middle-aged (not a demographic that the crafterati think about very much) for whom the local was often the only social outlet they had. This has led to more lonliness and isolation in this group and, by their nature, they aren't a group that get covered very much.

    So as you sit in your smoke-free gastropub commenting on how delicate Pierre manages to get those organic scallops you can rest easy knowing that you've taken away one of the few nice things in the lives of people you've never met.

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    1. Excellent comment, Liam, well summed up :-)

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    2. Thirded.

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    3. Timothy Goodacre3 July 2017 at 16:26

      Excellent analysis Liam

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  7. "There are plenty of things that other people do that I regard as extremely unpleasant, but I don’t want to see them banned so long as they don’t impinge on me."

    Smoking in pubs impinges on me. It impinges on the staff working there, which are legally protected from being harmed at work.

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    1. It doesn't impinge on you if it's confined to separate areas where you don't need to go, does it?

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    2. Dave, that is another problem with the smoking ban is that it perpetuates the widespread mythology that you can get diseases like lung cancer from passive smoking etc,etc. The problem for the anti-smoking lobby in the seventies was that the majority of non-smokers did not care whether smokers damaged their own health or not. So they embarked on a campaign to convince non-smokers that a smokers were killing non-smokers in order to ban smoking everywhere, they are as dishonest as they are ruthless.

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    3. I used to go to a pub where ALL of the bar staff came outside for a cigarette. Staff and customers could have been accommodated by having a smoking room without a bar but that would not have achieved the real but denied purpose of the ban: to de-normalise smoking and to stop smokers smoking.

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    4. In pre-ban days, a favourite bĂȘte noire of prissy CAMRA types was bar staff - who were not allowed to smoke actually behind the bar - standing in the hatchway at the end of the bar with a ciggie.

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  8. Excellent piece Mudgie. And let me just add one more voice saying what anyone who's put a few minutes of effort into understanding the so-called science knows: SECONDHAND SMOKE IS UTTER BOLLOCKS. Fredrik is correct, it was pretty much invented to stigmatise smokers, starting with the infamous Mr. Godber's WHO conference in 1975. It's staggering that it just keeps going, but then a lot of people are very heavily invested in believing it, and wanting everyone else to believe it.

    Me and a few friends often used to go to my local on a Sunday night, when it had a pleasant quiet buzz, as opposed to Saturday when it was too crowded. Now, on Saturdays the landlord and a few old cronies stand outside smoking, while there are half a dozen people inside. Sundays? They're closed.

    Of course, the problem with individual anecdotes is that you can always find one somewhere, to demonstrate your point. So if you know a pub that's doing better since the ban, you're welcome to it, but it's beyond me why you can't have your pub the way you like it while I have mine the way I like it. Oh, wait a minute . . . because secondhand smoke kills . . . .

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  9. The smoking ban should be repealed (or at least amended to allow separate smoking rooms). The science used to impose the bans is non-existent (junk science or fraud). Tobacco control reinforces the ban through relentless propaganda that stimulates the persecution of smokers.

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  10. Why is it reasonable to say that the smoking ban caused the closure of many pubs? The rate of closure of pubs in Ireland began to increase shortly after the ban. Later, the ban was imposed in Scotland and the same happened there. Later still, is was applied in England and Wales, and the same happened there. Were those events just coincidences?

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  11. I find it rather strange Mudge, that a non-smoker like yourself should be carrying the torch for a habit which is in terminal decline. It’s all well and good getting hot under the collar, but the smoking ban is here to stay and despite what free-thinking libertarians might think, the chances of the legislation being repealed are zilch.

    You rightly state in your article that smoking was already prohibited in many public places, but claim that the ban was a direct attack on pubs – and predominantly back-street, wet-led pubs at that.

    Like smoking itself, these types of pubs were already in decline due to changing demographics, the increased availability of cheap beer from supermarkets, plus a whole host of reasons already mentioned by other commentators. The smoking ban almost certainly accelerated the decline in this type of pub, but they were already on the way out.

    The generation which is up and coming see no future in wet-led locals, and as an example of this, the people I work with, most of whom are younger than me, describe them with the disparaging term of “old man pubs”. Most wouldn’t been seen dead in them; and I am talking here of people aged between 25 and 45.

    If the smoking ban was to be lifted tomorrow, this would still not be sufficient to stem the closure rate of “old man pubs”, many of which were/are pretty grotty and depressing places anyway.

    With the numbers of people smoking in steady decline, and the changing demographics already mentioned, harping on about the smoking ban, 10 years after it came into force, is pretty much a waste of time; even though it might attract a large number of comments on a blog such as this.

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    1. Well, surely the whole point of standing up for individual freedom is that you don't only support the freedom to do the things you do personally. And there is a clear self-interest in opposing the smoking ban, as it has led to the wholesale closure of pubs, and the template is now being extended to alcohol.

      I'd also suggest that your work colleagues aren't really the type of people who would ever have frequented wet-led boozers very much. But, where they do still exist, there's a good proportion of under-45s in them.

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    2. “old man pubs”?
      The smoking ban has closed pubs frequented by the young as well.
      If anything it is the other way around. Pubs are now restaurants for middle aged and older people to eat food in. The sort of people that were freeloading off the craic created by others in the past. But I suppose it depends on where you live and the sort of pubs that you went to before this disgusting example of discrimination became law.

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    3. Timothy Goodacre3 July 2017 at 16:33

      Do you ever go in a wet led pub ? Most people are smokers and you will observe them going out during the course of the evening for a smoke.

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  12. Timothy Goodacre3 July 2017 at 16:30

    Why can't the law be amended to allow well ventilated smoking rooms as they do abroad ? I guess the prohibitionists are frightened that these pubs would be packed with people of all ages having a good time.

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    1. That's exactly what they're frightened of - the smoking pubs would be full of people enjoying the craic, while the non-smoking pubs would only have a handful of dull, prissy wowsers.

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    2. I've learned a new word: "wowser" !

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  13. A lot of what Paul Bailey says is true, at least from a pretty widespread point of view. But smoking is not in 'terminal decline', I would say rather, we are in the midst of a rabid crusade against it, driven by a grossly over-empowered and dishonest 'public health' movement at a time when the culture has taken a puritanical, risk-averse turn. That's the UK, anyway, and quite a few places are almost as bad, but people are still smoking billions of fags in China, Russia, Japan, Indonesia etc. I have no doubt that the lies and exaggerations used to demonise smoking will ultimately unravel, smoking will rise again, and smoking bans will be gradually repealed, just as marijuana is now being gradually de-criminalised. The pendulum always swings back, though in this case, I'm not at all sure I'll live to see it. In the meantime, as Curmudgeon says, it's still wrong if it lasts a thousand years. If there is a demand for one pub in every town which would be full of 70-year-old smokers, then there's something wrong with the fact that it's not allowed to exist - just as it would be wrong for the town to not be allowed one gay bar, or one vegan restaurant. (Smaller minorities who aren't currently stigmatised). There are important matters of principle and precedent at stake and some of us can still see them through the fog of junk science, authoritarian meddling, and fashionable prejudice. So I will continue to 'waste my time', and yours . . .

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  14. Night clubs - not normally the preserve of 'old men' - have been decimated since the ban. I believe something like 50% have closed since 2007. So the premise that it was only those 'old men pubs', which were going to die anyway were the only places affected is obviously a fallacy.

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    1. I think it's always been the case that the no-frills drink and chat pub tended to attract an older clientele - it's nothing new. And you don't see the dedicated "young people's pubs" that you used to.

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    2. the licensing hours change in November 2005 did far more to impact clubs, I even remember Peter Stringfellow at the time on the BBC complaining it had killed his London clubs before the smoking ban came in, because once you remove the need to leave a pub at 11pm just to have another beer, you dont need to go to a club & pay twice as much for a drink anymore.

      but thats the thing about the smoking ban, you cannot separate its impact from all the other elements that have hit the pub trade over the last decade.

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    3. Well, given that there were obviously other factors at work, it's impossible to separate out precisely what effect the smoking ban has had. But the weight of anecdotal evidence is so overwhelming that only the most blinkered antismoker would seek to deny it's had a massive adverse impact. To quote licensee Mark Daniels,

      “The smoking ban has certainly caused most pubs, especially those that were traditional drinking outlets (like mine, for example), a lot of pain - and it has caused a lot to close, too. To say it hasn't is, frankly, ridiculous and shows a severe lack of knowledge of the problems the pub trade is facing right now.”

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  15. A sad anniversary. Nonetheless, it should be remembered. In fact, it must be remembered so that this ludicrous law can be amended to accommodate both smokers and non-smokers.

    Thanks for the post.

    Since 2007 -- with one exception -- I remain a non-pub-visiting smoker

    Churchmouse

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  16. Good piece in the Spectator: "The Smoking Ban Ripped The Soul Out of this Country".

    https://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2017/07/smoking-ban-ripped-soul-country/

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  17. I hate the smoking ban but I'm not seriously arguing that it's the one and only cause of the collapse of the pub trade, and I don't think anyone else is. Nor do I think there's any point arguing about what the most important cause has been. It's like looking at a pile of cards and arguing about which one made the house of cards collapse. The point is if you didn't want it to collapse, or if you gave a damn about it, you wouldn't be pulling away any of them.

    I've no doubt that the smoking ban was a very significant 'card' - leaving it alone could well have enabled a lot of pubs to survive, which haven't. But how significant it is, or how significant another factor is, is not really the point. The point is, is it legitimate; should it be the Law of the Land.

    I say NO, most people I know say NO, and those who say 'yes' are as far as I can see, those who haven't paid attention, haven't cared, haven't thought it through, and are operating purely on a level of personal (and fashionable) prejudice. The Spectator piece mentioned above is a good example, it's spot-on, but the comments against it boil down to the same old 'but I think smoking is smelly' or 'it says in the paper that secondhand smoke is killing me and I want to believe it' . . .

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