Visit The Pub Curmudgeon site

With discussion about coronavirus now moving to talk of the programme for unwinding the lockdown, one idea that has been floated is to allow pubs to open their beer gardens, but not inside bars. It’s doubtful how many pubs would find this viable, especially if the customers were expected to adhere to strict social distancing, and in any case it’s likely that, as soon as it was permitted, we would end up with a prolonged spell of rainy weather.
However, this has prompted MP Mark Pritchard to call for restrictions on smoking in beer gardens if it is implemented;
If cafes, restaurants and pubs with outside areas open next week, then new rules on smoking in external public areas should be introduced by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. "Outside seating should not be dominated by smokers exposing customers to secondary smoke.”
Not surprisingly, Simon Clark of smokers’ rights group Forest has criticised this demand:
Mr Clark said businesses should be free to choose their own policy on smoking outside.
"Imposing new rules that may reduce the number of customers who are tempted back after the lockdown restrictions have been eased could hinder their ability to get back on their feet," he said.
"If Mr Pritchard has evidence that smoking outside poses a risk to non-smokers he should produce it.
"Smokers should obviously be considerate to those around them, but we don't need more rules to govern our behaviour."
Mr Clark added that in the past Mr Pritchard had expressed a personal dislike of breathing in cigarette smoke.
"It is quite wrong for Mr Pritchard to use the Covid crisis as an opportunity to tackle one of his pet hates, especially when there is no risk to the public."
It should be remembered that smoking continued to be permitted in outdoor areas because it was felt that there was little or no risk to others from environmental tobacco smoke. (The same is true indoors, of course, but that’s another matter). If people don’t like it, that’s up to then, but it seems a warped sense of priorities to be more worried about the risk from second-hand smoke than from coronavirus. There’s also plenty of evidence that smoking actually acts as a prophylactic against the disease.
For most of the year, the only people in beer gardens are smokers, and their tolerant friends, because they simply have no alternative. Then, every year, as regular as clockwork, antismokers see that the sun has come out, emerge blinking into the light, and to their horror find that there are already smokers in the beer garden.
There’s nothing to stop licenses to voluntarily choose to ban smoking in all or part of their beer gardens, if they feel that their business will benefit. But they should remember that smokers, over the course of year, are the people most likely to use beer gardens in the first place. Can they really afford to lose that trade? Despite the ban, smokers on average still spend more time and money in pubs than non-smokers, presumably because many non-smokers are prissy, health-obsessed people who don’t find pubs attractive in the first place. On cool, overcast days, non-smoking sections of beer gardens are deserted.
If smoking in outdoor areas was to be wholly or partly prohibited by law, it would make it much harder for the pub trade to recover. And what’s the betting that, once imposed, it would never be relaxed again?