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Resistance of catering industry to smoking ban not based on principle

‘Inconsistent policy undermines support base’
30 May 2016
'Legislation on smoking ban should be more consistent'

Pub owners are not opposing the smoking ban on principle, as is often assumed, but for a number of different reasons. Although a small group was opposed to the ban on principle and from the start, most pub owners initially respected the smoking ban. Opposition to the ban grew only when it turned out that enforcement was limited and the legislation inconsistent. This led to unfair competition and resulted in an increasing number of pubs, in particular smaller ones, violating the ban. This is the conclusion reached by University of Groningen sociologist of law Willem Bantema in his PhD research. He argues for a clearer smoking policy, for instance with respect to designated smoking areas in pubs. A case brought by Clean Air Netherlands about this will be heard later this year. Bantema is defending his thesis at the University of Groningen on 9 June.

On 1 July 2008 a smoking ban was introduced throughout the entire catering sector with the goal of promoting the health of staff and clientele. While restaurants and grand pubs did not object to the smoking ban, there was growing resistance among the smaller pubs. Bantema: ‘It is often argued that this was based on some kind of anarchism, a lack of confidence in yet another new government rule, but the resistance to the ban was progressing too slowly for that. In the beginning, the smoking ban was respected by 86% of pubs. Only in later months did this percentage drop to 63%.’ It is apparent from the more than 400 questionnaires completed by catering entrepreneurs and the 23 interviews Bantema conducted with pub owners that local pubs blamed the smoking ban for a decrease in their sales. And since the ban was not enforced consistently, they saw to their great concern their clients disappearing to nearby pubs that did have ashtrays on their tables. Moreover, these pub owners often had a bond with their clientele that made it difficult for them to forbid clients to smoke.

Creating a stronger support base

In fact, the entire catering sector suffered a loss in turnover in the years following the introduction of the smoking ban. But whereas most businesses attributed this to the economic crisis, the pubs blamed the smoking ban. Nor did the owners of smaller pubs see any positive reasons that would outweigh the losses they attributed to the smoking ban. Bantema’s research shows that nearly half of them fail to support the primary goal of the policy, namely improving the health of staff and clientele. Bantema: ‘This is why I think that there is much to gain in convincing pub owners of the importance of this goal, so that there is a support base for this policy. Once a strong support base is in place, people will more easily call each to account for smoking, and we can eliminate the cat-and-mouse game of smoking after midnight and pub owners warning each other of imminent police raids.’

Clarity

Interestingly, such a support base for the smoking ban has developed in many countries over time. Bantema believes that the Netherlands is lagging behind in this respect because of unpredictable judgements and inconsistent policy. A one-man business might win a case one year only to have to remove its ashtrays a year later. This is why Bantema believes that clarity is even more important than broadening the support base. ‘A smoking ban without exceptions is far more effective than a smoking ban that allows exceptions.’

Smoking areas

An increasing number of pubs are making use of smoking areas where the clients are in principle not served. In practice this often happens anyway, says Bantema. ‘If an inspector notices that the door between the smoking area and the pub is open, the barman simply says he forgot to close it. It is very difficult to catch people red-handed.’

Curriculum vitae

Willem Bantema (Minnertsga, 1984) studied Sociology at the University of Groningen. He conducted research at the Faculty of Law, as part of the research programme on Public Trust and Public Law, where he currently holds a position as senior researcher. His primary supervisor is Professor Marc Hertogh and his second supervisor Dr Heleen Weyers.

Last modified:11 January 2018 2.04 p.m.
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