The leader of the rebellion against the smoking ban today said it has ‘destroyed the pub industry’.
One in five boozers have shut down since it became illegal to spark up inside – although there are mixed views over exactly what impact the rule change had.
On the eve of the 10-year anniversary of the controversial law, Hamish Howitt, who was the first person to be prosecuted for flouting the ban, said he had no regrets.
The 65-year-old, who says he lost thousands of pounds as a result of his doomed battle, added: “This blanket ban has destroyed the industry.
“They made an example of me and I will never know how they got away with it.”
Mr Howitt, who flouted the ban at his DelBoy’s Sports Bar on Rigby Road for 18 months, racking up many court appearances and thousands of pounds, later said it had ‘already killed off the pub trade’.
He said: “This blanket ban has destroyed the industry. If I’ve got 20 people standing outside my pub in the winter, freezing – those people are subsidising the heating and electricity inside the pub.”
The controversial publican used the pub – part of his Happy Scot’s complex – as the base for his campaign against the smoking ban, with his licence later being revoked by the council.
In 2009, three months after winning a £30,000 High Court battle, council chiefs handed a permanent licence back to the venue.
This time, former manageress Heather Campbell took charge after taking over the lease from Mr Howitt, and pledged: “There won’t be any smoking allowed on the premises.
“I have no interest in that [Mr Howitt’s campaign], or in any political stuff, I just want to run a good local bar.”
Mr Howitt was forced to close Crazy Scot’s – which was always smoke-free – following months of costly court hearings, and he told The Gazette the campaign had ‘a bad effect on my finances, my health, and the business.’
But the bar is now reopen again, and was refurbished earlier this year.
“They made an example of me and I will never know how they got away with it,” he recalled.
“They have stripped smokers of their dignity. Nightclubs and social clubs have shut down. All the government has done is targeted millions of people who pay fortunes in taxes.
“I feel even stronger now.”
He said his bar was meant to fund his pension, but added: “I’m now on a state pension. I owe more than the pub is worth. That’s all to do with big brother.”
Altogether almost 1,800 pubs have closed across the North West since the end of 2006, a new report has found.
But some say it has forced breweries and landlords to diversify, be more family-friendly, and said there are ‘several factors’ behind the closures.
Rob Lyons, author of the recent report looking into the impact the Smoke Free law has had, said: “The smoking ban has been a kick in the teeth for the traditional British boozer, especially in our urban inner cities.
“Ten years on from the introduction of this damaging policy, the government should order a full review of the impact of the legislation and consider alternatives to the current comprehensive ban.”
The report says more than 12,000 pubs have been lost since July 2007, with those in poorer urban areas suffering the most.
It said that, while the decline is part of a long-term trend, and the smoking ban is not the only factor, there ‘was a clear acceleration in pub closures after it was introduced’, pro-smoking group Forest said.
“There’s very little evidence that the health of the nation has benefit significantly from the smoking ban,” director Simon Clark said.
“Instead, thousands of pubs have closed and choice has been sacrificed on the altar of tobacco control.
“Allowing separate, well-ventilated smoking rooms or relaxing the unnecessarily strict regulations on outdoor smoking areas would reignite freedom of choice and give publicans greater control over their business.
“Attempts to extend the smoking ban to outdoor areas, including beer gardens, will be fiercely resisted. Smoking is a legitimate activity and pubs must be allowed to accommodate adults who wish to smoke.”
In May 2007, just weeks before the new Smoke Free law was brought in, a YouGov poll showed that one in four adults in England said they would visit pubs more often.
And Angela Aspin, regional director at CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale), said the smoking ban cannot be blamed for all closures since, though she said it had ‘a role to play in all this’.
She said: “Weak planning laws have made pubs an easy target for developers, with a loophole in the English planning system only being closed as recently as last month.
“A huge tax burden and changing business rates have also put a number of pubs under pressure, leading to soaring costs for consumers and ultimately less footfall.
“While the smoking ban has had a role to play in all of this, it’s difficult to determine the impact on its own. It’s likely to be a mixed story for pubs – while some may have lost core locals when the ban came in, others may have used the change to become accessible for other types of customers, much to their own profit.
“These days, we are seeing a number of pubs diversify their offering, such as providing food, entertainment, games, or having family-friendly facilities.
“Sometimes this is to attract more customers, other times it’s because it’s the only community facility left in the local area.
“However, many pubs still continue to very successfully just offer good, quality beer. It’s very much down to the individual public to determine what’s best for them, but I think we could all agree that the image of pubs has changed dramatically in the last 10 years.”