Sunday, April 02, 2006

Scotland kicks the habit (publicly)

When in Europe, one of the things I am struck by is the extent of smoking in public places. In the US this is becoming increasingly rare, to the point where it looks strange. Now some European countries have also gotten the message (Ireland, Finland, Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden), and Northern Ireland and Britain are slated to start such a ban next year.

But this week it was Scotland's turn. As of March 26 it became illegal to smoke in enclosed public spaces, subject to a $350 fine against the premise owner (AP). Some Scots are unhappy about it (although not as unhappy as they'll be with their chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or lung cancer). According to a BBC poll, 20% of Scottish smokers say they'll ignore the ban, with most resistance among the young (ah, yes, they are immortal, after all).

And then there are the pubs.
A straw poll conducted by the Evening News of 25 city watering holes found that the vast majority of landlords were enthusiastic about the ban almost one week into Scotland becoming smoke-free.
Of those surveyed, ten bars (40 per cent) said their takings had slipped during the week, in one case by as much as around 50 per cent.

From this group, only four publicans attributed the slide in sales solely to the ban, with the rest citing other factors such as the bad weather and the student holidays as potential reasons for the drop in takings.

Meanwhile, a fifth of the bars questioned said their takings had actually gone up during the period, with some recording more frequent visits from their regular clientele and a positive response to the change even among smokers.

Many publicans spoke enthusiastically about how much more pleasant their premises were now that they were smoke-free. (The Scotsman)
A special squad charged with inspecting and enforcing the ban is reporting almost total compliance. So far, so good.

And experience elsewhere suggests it will stay good. Then maybe Scots, like Americans, will find it distinctly odd, and somewhat unsettling, to see smoking in public places on the Continent.

In a hundred years people will look back on this time with bemusement and amazement. People actually put their mouths over a miniature smokestack belching cancer causing agents and toxins and took a deep breath. But that's for a future social historian to wonder about. For now, tams off to the Scots.