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…

Pubs suffering in “Scotland the Smoke-free”

The countdown is on for state-wide smoking ban in Minnesota with competing prophecies of gloom and doom vs. fresh air and sunshine on what will happen. It is worth noting what actually has happened elsewhere.

A nationwide smoking ban in pubs and restaurants went into effect in Scotland in late March of 2006, with many of the same arguments on both sides that we’ve become familiar with here in Minnesota. Shortly after the ban went into affect the Cancer Research UK poll released results confidently predicting that Scottish pubs would benefit from the ban, citing poll results showing that 25% of those surveyed said they’d be more likely to visit a pub because of the ban. The poll also found that 10% said they’d be less likely to go to a pub.

That 10% figure is especially interesting when you read this article:

The smoking ban in Scotland has seen a 10% decrease in sales and a 14% fall in customers in pubs, according to a new study.

The study carried out by Oxford University Press on behalf of the International Epidemiological Association compared sales before and after the ban at 2724 pubs – 1590 in Scotland and 1134 in northern England – where smoking is still permitted.

The study’s authors say this is the first major look at the smoking ban outside of the US – where trade has remained fairly constant.

The report says: “These studies have mostly found no negative economic effects of such legislation on the hospitality sector in the long run.

“However, differences in the social use of public houses in Great Britain in comparison with the US may lead to different findings.”

“Our study suggests that the Scottish smoking ban had a negative economic impact on public houses … due in part to a drop in the number of customers.

“The short-term impact of the ban did not lead to more customers coming into pubs due to the smoke-free atmosphere, and presumably did not lead smokers to spend more money on drink or food instead of smoking.”

The study backs anecdotal evidence from licensees north of the border.

While the study makes a reference to similar bans in the U.S. having little affect on the bar and restaurant trade — an assertion that bears further scrutiny — it appears that the International Epidemiological Association must also acknowledge the statistics showing that harm has been done. In fact, if anyone is clearly benefitting from the ban it is the people hired — at tax-payer expense — to enforce the ban, as reported here:

A survey has found that some of Scotland’s smoke ban enforcers are seriously under-employed with some councils’ officers NEVER having issued a ticket.

An investigation by Scotland on Sunday found seven councils, between them employing at least 11 full-time enforcers, have failed to issue a single penalty ticket or warning since they began work in March.

It is estimated that the salary bill for these officers is around £220,000.

Councils say there is more to the job than handing out fines, however Stewart Maxwell, the MSP who brought the original bill before the Scottish parliament said: “I always thought it would be self-policing. From the start I didn’t think that it would be necessary to employ so many enforcement officers.

“A lot of them were certainly doing a lot of work when the ban was brought in, including distributing posters, but I don’t know whether this is still the case.”

Paul Waterson, chief executive of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, said the money could be better spent compensating badly hit rural pubs.

It appears that an addiction to bureaucracy is even harder to stamp out than a craving for nicotine. Actually, I know of many people who have been able to quit smoking, but I haven’t heard of any government jobs being reduced. Has anyone ever tried to develop a “Bureaucracy Patch”?

Of course, why worry about livelihoods when lives are at stake? Scottish Health Minister Andy Kerr responded angrily to the survey results, saying “There’s a brutal answer to that. This is about public health, it’s about saving lives – it’s not about businesses.” I’ll bet newly unemployed Scottish pub and restaurant workers are already lining up to apply for jobs as government fat inspectors (fat in food, not government, of course) in anticipation of the next ban.