Smoking ban in UK: same story in five newspapers with different headlines

When smoking bans in public places were first broached, some of the fiercest opposition came from bar and restaurant lobbyists who predicted it would be their ruination. In March of this year 2006 Scotland instituted a ban and the rest of the UK on July 1. What's the verdict so far? If you read the business news, you might be a bit confused. Here are five headlines about pub chain, JD Weatherspoon:

Wetherspoon sales slump on smoking ban (TimesOnline)

Wetherspoon Says Pub Sales Growth Slowed After Smoking Ban (Bloomberg)

Wetherspoon warns on smoking ban (Daily Telegraph)

Wetherspoon cautious as smoking ban takes toll (Reuters)

Wetherspoon predicting gains from smoking ban (The Scotsman)

What is interesting is that all the accompanying stories say pretty much the same thing. Weatherspoon's sales haven't been hurt and in fact are up 1.1% over last August. At that point the spin starts. Let's begin with the lede of the most dire headline, "http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/industry_sectors/leisure…
Wetherspoon sales slump on smoking ban":

Shares in JD Wetherspoon fell 3 per cent today after the high-street pubs group revealed the first signs that the smoking ban in England and Wales is hitting business.

Like-for-like growth across the group slumped to 1.1 per cent in August, after an initial spurt in July, when sales rose 5.3 per cent.

The setback overshadowed a 6 per cent rise in full-year pre-tax profits to £62 million, helped by Wetherspoon?s continuing drive to diversify its food and drink range. (TImesOnline)

The story goes on to say Weatherspoon was happy with the 1.1% increase and said that their efforts to adapt by selling more coffee and food more than made up for any ban related shortfall. In fact the same story says the firm will triple their dividends over last year plans to open 30 more sites. Go figure.

The Bloomberg headline, "Wetherspoon sales slump on smoking ban," is less ominous, but the facts are pretty much the same:

Shares in JD Wetherspoon fell 3 per cent today after the high-street pubs group revealed the first signs that the smoking ban in England and Wales is hitting business.

Like-for-like growth across the group slumped to 1.1 per cent in August, after an initial spurt in July, when sales rose 5.3 per cent.

The setback overshadowed a 6 per cent rise in full-year pre-tax profits to £62 million, helped by Wetherspoon?s continuing drive to diversify its food and drink range.

The group claimed today that it sells 250,000 breakfasts a week as well as more Pimms and Lavazza coffee than any other company in the world. Food sales now account for 30 per cent of turnover. (Bloomberg)

Bloomberg adds that the decreased sales of drinks is not just related to the smoking ban. Britons are drinking less beer than they used to and supermarkets are lowering beer prices to compete. This was a trend that started before the ban and continues.

So what about The Telegraph: "Wetherspoon warns on smoking ban":

Pub group JD Wetherspoon has warned its outlook for 2008 remains cautious, despite lifting profits by 6pc this year.

The group, which operates 617 pubs across the UK, saw slowing bar sales in August following the introduction of the smoking ban in July in England.

In Scotland, where the smoking ban was introduced in March, the group said sales and margins were under considerable pressure for the first six months, though have since staged an encouraging recovery.

(The Telegraph)

Same story. Uncertainty but making up for any shortfall by adapting.

But Reuters, in "Wetherspoon cautious as smoking ban takes toll," points out that the company says the uncertainty and any pressure on profits isn't just from the smoking ban, something none of the other stories commented on:

Pub group JD Wetherspoon warned on Friday that the smoking ban had started to take its toll and rising staff and interest costs would eat into profits, knocking its shares 6 percent.

Wetherspoon, which has around 670 pubs, posted a 5.6 percent rise in annual like-for-like sales to July 29, with profit before tax up 7 percent on a like-for-like basis to 62 million pounds, a touch below analysts' average forecast of 63 million.

Chief Executive John Hutson told Reuters he was comfortable with analysts' forecasts for the new financial year but said costs would be steady, rather than declining as it previously expected as staff costs, and interest repayments would eat into the benefit of cheaper utility bills.

Shares dropped 5 percent to 568 pence by 11:30 a.m. (Reuters)

Finally we go to Scotland, where the smoking ban took effect [a year and] four months earlier, in March 2006. Here's an article from The Scotsman, "Wetherspoon predicting gains from smoking ban":

THE smoking ban will be to the long-term benefit of the licensed trade, according to leading pub group JD Wetherspoon.

The chain has 40 pubs in Scotland, including five in and around Edinburgh, such as Foot of the Walk and Standing Order.

The company said that when the ban was introduced in Scotland it put considerable pressure on sales and margins, before trade staged an "encouraging recovery".

It said its outlook remains "cautious" for 2008 because of the uncertainty in the market south of the Border following the recent introduction of the ban there.

[snip]

JD Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin said: "We have no doubt that this legislation will be to the long-term benefit of the licensed trade."

John Hutson, the firm's chief executive officer, said: "The amount of people that smoke is falling every year. Those who do are increasingly affecting those who don't.

"Unless smoking was banned, that would have made pubs more unpopular, so our view is that the ban can be positive and make pubs more popular places." (The Scotsman)

The spin. Round and round she goes, where she stops, nobody knows.

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You ought to show this article to Tim Slagle a Libertarian comic with whom I've tussled over the issue of whether secondhand smoke is dangerous. He's very good at cherry picking data to bemoan how smoking bans have supposedly devastated the restaurant and bar industry.

Point of fact: Scotland's smoking ban began in March *2006*, not March this year.

By Mathematician (not verified) on 11 Sep 2007 #permalink

I don't know about the UK, but the smoking ban in restaurants & bars recently enacted here in Anchorage, Alaska is, in fact, hurting the business of the bars, and will almost certainly get worse when winter hits and the smoking area patios some of the bars have built will have to be closed due to snow.

Mathematician: Thanks. Will correct.

Twisted one: Could be. Have any data?

I also have a libertarian friend who goes bewilderingly ballistic over the smoking ban, and rants about the danger of secondhand smoke (against it, that is). He doesn't get that I don't care if it's harmless, it's still vile and disgusting, and whatever happened to the libertarian maxim that the right to swing your fist stops at the end of someone else's nose?

Or on someone else's clothes, etc.

I'd hate to think of him that he was just another of those "libertarians" who only parrots whatever talking points giant corporations want spread around that month.

Jacking the blog for a moment. There has been an 8.2 quake in Sumatra and a Tsunami has been generated. There is a Indian Ocean wide tsunami watch and warning in many areas.

The US west coast is not included in any watches or warnings.

By M. Randolph Kruger (not verified) on 12 Sep 2007 #permalink

Smoker's have become a thousand times more considerate than they were before and yet it's not enough for the folks that want to see cigarette smoker's disappear.
This particular war has gone too far, there's no balance. Would like to see anti-smoker's be more realistic and realize that it takes time for this habit to fade.
Cigarettes are extremely addictive, and it can be an emotional meltdown of the worst kind when someone does attempt to stop.
There are far too many who are incapable of embracing the 360 degree viewpoint.

Lea: As I told you I am extremely sympathetic to the problem of quitting smoking, for personal reasons. I think, though, that a lot of the smoking bans have made it easier because they have made smoking harder and anything that will do that is useful. It is true that some people can be very angry about being near a smoker, sometimes with justification, often not. But it also takes time for non-smokers to adjust. It will happen.

Orac (and Revere): while the business up/down thing may be spinning (BBC News has two contradictory articles on the subject), my favorite article on the matter was this: Scots smoke ban improved health:

Comparisons at nine hospitals revealed that there was a 17% year-on-year drop in heart attack admissions since the ban was introduced in March 2006. ...

Professor Jill Pell, who headed the research team which made the findings, said: "The primary aim of smoking bans is to protect non-smokers from the effects of passive smoking.

"Previous studies have not been able to confirm whether or not that has been achieved. What we were able to show is that among people who are non-smokers there was a 20% reduction in heart attack admissions."

Lea: I understand that smoking is an addiction. But smokers need to accept that their addiction, when practiced in enclosed public places, is demonstrably harming other people, and they don't have the "right" to do that.

My husband and I quit a two pack a day habit in seven weeks. No pain. No cravings. No divorce. Happy lungs. Happy life. I have never looked back. Revere can I name the organisation that helped me quit?

We stopped smoking 10 years ago. I have no problems being around smokers. We stopped smoking without out the aid of patches, gums etc.

victoria: Absolutely. I don't allow commercial plugs here, but I trust you are not a stakeholder in the company, just a satisfied user.

Thanks Revere. No I am not a stakeholder.

The company name?

SMOKENDERS

Smokenders is a world wide (American) organisation. Just look in your telephone directory, ring them and take it from there. You attend meetings once a week, for seven weeks. If you follow all the instructions to the letter, you will get the monkey of your back. It is all very simple. Give it a try.

Revere, Sorry, just a little extra information.

Smokenders is not a religious organisation, nor is it affiliated with any drug company.

Smokenders is only in existence to help you to stop smoking. They are there for no other reason.
Smokenders is for adults that are serious about breaking the habit. No one will belittle you, stand over you, or make you feel anything other than empowered.

Smokenders encourage you to smoke for the first five weeks.

By the end of week four I had to force my self to smoke. I really resented the fact that I had to smoke up to week five. I could not wait for quit day.

The final two weeks are used to shore up your empowerment.

All you have to do is - do your homework - and follow their instructions to the letter. You will not fail.

Very happy for you and your husband victoria, a wonderful accomplishment.

sorry revere, to me this is backward thinking.

smoking bans have made it easier because they have made smoking harder and anything that will do that is useful

All this has done is make it more expensive, oppressive, over-bearing, alienating certain people, and looking like yet another type of Prohibition. (just what society needs aye?)
And who started these smoking bans? It is only a very small but well funded group of smoke haters who want to see these bans invoked.
Your position is understood revere and it's wonderful that you have first hand experience.

Once more: Smoker's have become a thousand times more considerate than they were before and yet it's not enough for the folks that want to see cigarette smoker's disappear.

I agree with you Lea. Smokers have become more considerate.

It is the very high health premiums that we are forced to pay that get up my nose.

Obesity and smoking are main contributors to our health crisis. There are a multitude of diseases that have been directly related to obesity and smoking, sometimes both.

Those that choose to smoke, have every right to. Equally however, those that do not smoke have the right to clean air and health.

Smokers read newspapers and watch television etc., and are well aware of the deleterious effects of smoking and of passive smoking.

Even when I was a smoker, I was careful not to smoke around children, or any where near a non smoker. I smoked in my garden at home. Here in Australia you cannot smoke in pubs, clubs, shopping centres etc - basically anywhere that humans congretate.

I do believe that smokers have no right to impinge apon the rights of non-smokers. Therefore, the restrictions that will be placed upon smokers in the future are inevitable. Smokers will just have to abide by them. It is a common curtesy. It is good manners.

Sorry should read - congregate. (6th paragraph last word).

Smoking bans helped me quit smoking. As more places became smoke free, there were more places I didn't even think of lighting up. That was wonderful. Finally, I got to the point -- even though I was still smoking -- I didn't like being in smoke filled rooms or walking through a cloud of smoke generated by another smoker. Then I quit.

I for one fully welcome smoking bans. Perhaps these bans were started by "very small but well funded group[s] of smoke haters" but the many of the rest of us are more than happy to hop on the bandwagon when we see a good thing coming. I'm tired of coming out of a bar smelling like a cigarette and feeling like I've just annihilated my entire respiratory system.
It does make some logical sense that the ban might cause problems in areas such as Alaska, where the prospect of smoking outside is completely uninviting. Perhaps they'll have to come up with another solution (such as a covered area solely for smoking, which protects against the weather but does not have bar service... or something). I just hope that doesn't deter the rest of the states!

Smoking bans have definitely changed smoker's behavior in public as well as their attitude towards non-smokers, especially here in the US. Many smokers are/were so fed up about being inconvenienced and socially looked down upon that it aided in their decision to stop smoking.