Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Smoking Ban

"Welcome to Norway. The only thing we smoke here is salmon"

Norway banned smoking back on 1st June 2004 following a protracted debate much the same as is taking place in the UK at the moment. The principle thrust of the Norwegian governments case for banning smoking was the Health and Safety of workers in the hospitality industries. Not surprisingly there were objections from all and sundry. It has to be remembered that Norway already had a compulsory no smoking policy in all offices and public buildings. Restaurants and cafes already had designated no smoking areas. Prior to the ban 30% of Norwegian men and 29% of women smoked despite the cost of a pack of cigarettes being in the region of 62 NKR (£5.50). Although it is noticeable how many Norwegians, including many women roll their own fags. The ban followed heavy pressure from restaurant workers' unions who claimed their members had a higher incidence of lung cancer than other workers due to the effects of passive smoking.

Following the ban Norwegians could only smoke in their own homes or outdoors. There were the inevitable claims of doom and bankruptcy from the hospitality industries but more than 2 years on ingenuity has triumphed. The first thing to appear were a variety of out door extensions to cafes, bars and restaurants ranging from chairs benches, window ledges with cushions to major out door seating areas. To cope with the harsh winter temperatures, breweries helped out by providing free or subsidised gas heaters and blankets. One ingenious bar owner bought up a redundant petrol station and changed it into an open air bar under the old garage canopy.

I must say from a punters point of view, as a non-smoker, I find eating and drinking out a much more pleasant experience than back home. It is surprising how people have adapted to the situation. Watching a football match in the pub is interesting, The place empties at half time whilst the smokers charge outside for a quick drag, it makes it easier for the non-smokers to refill their glass! The only down side is eating and drinking outside during the warmer weather. The smokers get their own back by blowing billowing clouds of smoke in your face.

The Norwegian government are claiming the ban as a great success, better than they had hoped for. The grim forecasts of widespread bankruptcies in the pub, bar and restaurant sector have so far proved unfounded. As anticipated there has been a marker improvement in the health of those working in the hospitality industries. Public reaction has also been better than expected. In a survey three out of four Norwegians were pleased with a tough new anti-smoking law. They say they're still patronizing bars and restaurants, even if they can't light up. One of the unexpected results of the ban is a 3 fold increase in restaurant customers dodging off with out paying their bill after slipping outside for a smoke.

It looks as though the UK government is making a meal of its' smoking ban legislation. It is hard to see how anything but an outright ban on smoking in all work and public places will work. Particularly as the primary justification for the ban, is worker health and safety. The segregation proposals did not work in Norway so it is hard to see how it would be any different in the UK. One thing is for sure, the smokers days are numbered, more and more countries states and cities throughout the world are introducing smoking bans, restricted tobacco advertising and in some extreme cases a complete tobacco ban.

27th October 2005 - UPDATE: Ministers Scupper All Out Ban On Smoking

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