Smoking ban – the verdict

Vincent Hamer at the Thatched House
Vincent Hamer at the Thatched House
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MYRA Stelfox and husband Harry have just lit up outside the Viking Hotel, South Shore, their holiday base until Friday.

It is their first ciggie of the day – 19 more to come. That’s £6-£7 going up in smoke a day. Apiece.

But both are diehard smokers and say they come to Blackpool because the resort still welcomes smokers.

“Go to some places and you feel like a leper, an outcast,” says Harry, who’s tried to quit and failed.

“In Blackpool there are facilities for smokers, although we have noticed this time that some more hotels – including this one – have stopped offering designated smoking rooms.

“More of the cafes have outside areas for smokers too.”

Myra adds: “We don’t mind stepping out for a smoke. We live in Scotland and they had the ban long before here. It’s killed lots of pubs there. A pint and a fag – it was a way of life for many.”

Both are retired but Myra works as a volunteer at her local hospice, St Columbus, in West Lothian, and is more than familiar with the health risks.

“It’s about everything in moderation,” she adds. “I enjoy a smoke and don’t want to give it up. There’s nowhere near the same fuss about alcohol or drugs, yet smokers are constantly told it’s a dirty habit. Doctors have very little patience with smokers. I don’t think it’s fair.”

Five years have passed since England introduced a ban on smoking in workplaces and enclosed public spaces – such as hotels, pubs, cafes, restaurants and other premises.

The aim was to reduce passive smoking, or exposure to secondhand smoke, which is known to be harmful. Scotland was the first country in the UK to introduce a smokefree law in March 2006.

A Blackpool publican, Hamish Howitt, himself a Scot, led a spirited campaign against the ban, calling it a ‘breach of civil liberty’ – and warning it would call time on many pubs.

Vin Hamer, licensee of The Thatched pub, Poulton, worked in Scotland before joining the local pub four years ago.

“Personally I think it’s one of the best things that ever happened to pubs,” says Vin.

“I don’t think it was a contributory factor to the closure of some pubs. If your offer is right and the price is right and the pub is in the right place -– and ours is – you can have a vibrant business and smokers and non-smokers can get along quite happily together.

“If a smoking ban hadn’t been put in place I’d have been out of this job by now.

“There was so much concern when it first came in and a few high-profile critics were shot down in flames. I don’t think it’s ever been an issue. I can only remember a couple of instances in all those years of having to ask a smoker to go outside.

“And we’ve made the courtyard, where we used to keep the beer barrels, a really good haven for smokers. It’s not just a canopy, they’ve got seating, heating and lighting, and a telly. And it makes the atmosphere healthier for the rest of us, no smoke filled rooms, eyes stinging, the smell.”

Landlady Shirley Hunt has run the Cranstone Hotel, Alexandra Road, South Shore for 12 years.

“Smoking was permitted at one point. I’m not a smoker and didn’t really want it but my husband smoked and people used to smoke in the bar. When the ban came in I was delighted. You can apply to designate some rooms for smoking but it puts it out of action for non smokers – because the smell lingers.

“So now we have a total ban, nice facilities outside for smokers. I wouldn’t say it has affected bookings at all.

“The place smells lovely now, I think this is why so many clubs have been refurbished, too. It enhances the atmosphere.”

David Gadd, secretary of Cleveleys Working Men’s Club, agrees.

“Initially the regulars tailed off for a while and that had an impact because one smoker drinking four Boddies a time spends £8 – and we lost a couple of grand the first year. But they started coming back.

“We’ve got more people coming in now for other things, like our Thursday afternoon sessions, a drink and a dance.

“We have 2,000 members and are still successful and have modernised. The old Wheeltappers and Shunters image is well and truly gone – and the smoking ban helped that. I packed in smoking 18 years ago. I had a triple heart bypass later. If I hadn’t stopped I’d be dead now.”

Marco Calle-Calatayud, chef-restaurateur of award winning Blackpool restaurant, Kwizeen, admits he would prefer to have been given a choice – rather than face a blanket ban.

“I would rather have consulted the customers and asked what they wanted rather than just say, no smoking unless you go outside,” he explains.

“Hotels can zone, restaurants don’t have that option. I think if you make a ruling you should make it the same for all and give us a choice.

“As a chef I’d always prefer people not to smoke – I want them to taste my food as it should taste!”

Jane Roberts, head of tobacco control for NHS Blackpool, says: “The smokefree legislation was one of the most important public health measures in recent years. It was accepted in Blackpool really quickly and continues to gather support among smokers.

“It definitely makes the transition to non-smoker much easier. Last year, nearly 6,500 smokers tried to quit with the help of the services we provide and they were able to enjoy a visit to pubs and restaurants knowing they would not have to put up with other people smoking round them. The reduction in heart attacks caused by secondhand smoke is very significant, 2.4 per cent in the first year, so over five years many Blackpool people have been saved from needless pain and suffering.”

jacqui.morley@blackpool gazette.co.uk or tweet her @jacqui morley