They couldn’t print it if it wasn’t true

From the front page of today’s StarTribune:

“Squeezed by a smoking ban and higher costs, beer sales in British pubs have fallen to Depression-era levels, and 1,400 pubs have closed.”

The Telegraph had more to say.

UK beer sales have fallen through the five billion litre mark for the first time since 1975 as the consumer downturn and smoking ban continue to hit Britain’s pubs and brewers.

News that annual beer sales have slipped below 50m hectolitres will come as a further blow to an industry already suffering as pubs go out of business and brewers are forced to consolidate.

Figures released to the brewing industry by the British Beer and Pub Association, and seen by The Sunday Telegraph, show total UK beer sales fell 1.7 per cent in the year to the end of April.

The effect of the decline in consumption, combined with rising utility and commodity costs, an increase in beer duty, and the impact of the consumer downturn and smoking ban is having a catastrophic impact on Britain’s pubs.

Pub closures are running at 27 a week, according to the BBPA, amounting to some 1,200 that have been forced out of business over the last 12 months.

To be fair, a 1.7 percent decline in beer sales this year doesn’t sound like enough to drive pubs out of business, even if linked to a smoking ban. The article also states:

That came as the volume of beer sold through pubs hit its lowest level since the Great Depression of the 1930s, with sales in the whole of the UK beer market down by 22 per cent since 1979.

If beer sales have been dropping since 1979 it doesn’t sound as if a smoking ban was the root cause. Still, it couldn’t have been helpful, especially when combined with other factors, including additional government handicaps in the form of increased duties.

Meanwhile, The Guardian had this report:

Pubs have sold 175 million fewer pints in the past year as a direct result of the smoking ban, according to market analysts AC Nielsen.

Jake Shepherd, marketing director AC Nielsen, said: ‘The winter months were particularly bad. Sales fell nine per cent through November to January when smokers would have been reluctant to stand outside in the cold to have a cigarette.’

Sales of wine were not hit as hard, dropping four per cent after the ban. Shepherd said: ‘Wine has held up somewhat better than other drinks, benefiting from the increasing importance of food and women to the trade.’ Cigarette sales have dropped 6 per cent since 1 July last year with smokers buying 2 billion fewer cigarettes between 1 July 2007 and April 2008.

The decline in beer sales in England, however, is consistent with the experience of Scottish pubs. Scotland instituted a nation-wide smoking ban in March of 2006, a year ahead of the rest of the UK, and saw a 7 percent decrease in pub beer sales in the ensuing 12 months according to AC Nielsen in an article in The Independent.

It would seem that in a down economy it is easier to push a margin-intensive business over the edge, especially when the government adds the extra burdens of increased taxes and a smoking ban. Increase taxes and institute a smoking ban? I’m certainly glad that that couldn’t happen in Minnesota.

Wait a minute…

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