Pub ban stubs out smoking at home

Out of puff: Smokers at a bar before the ban.
Out of puff: Smokers at a bar before the ban.

A ban on smoking in bars and pubs has prompted many New Zealanders to stop smoking at home, Ministry of Health research shows.

Next month will mark six years since the passing of smoke-free legislation that bans smoking in indoor work environments such as clubs, casinos, bars and restaurants. It came into force one year later, in December 2004.

A ministry expert on tobacco, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, says one of the positive spin-offs of the law has been that the number of smoke-free homes has dramatically increased. He attributes the trend to a change in attitude – "People started thinking, `I can't smoke in the pub so I won't smoke in my home'."

A report evaluating the law's effectiveness and impact across various sectors shows exposure to second-hand smoke in the home decreased from 20% in 2003 to 9% in 2006. And the cultural shift, which has seen smoking become less socially acceptable, has seen smoking rates fall year on year.

The research, he says, also shows "the overall economic impact [of the legislation] was not a negative one".

But Josh White of the Hospitality Association of New Zealand says there is no doubt the law has had a negative impact on licensed premises. "Everyone that's tried to survive has had to put a smoking area in at their own cost."

White had two bars in Hamilton at the time of the change and soon closed one of them – partly because of a drop-off in patronage after the legislation.

Because of the layout of the bar, adding smoking facilities was not an option and smoking customers were forced to stand outside the front entrance, which put off other customers from coming in.

"We had a drop of 30-40%. A group of guys standing out the front door can be intimidating. Not that they were like that, but it's just not a good look."

He then bought a premises next-door to the remaining bar and turned it into a garden bar, which has been a success. Adapting his businesses to accommodate smokers and the new law cost him about $230,000, he says.

But he says focusing on food has seen him recoup much of that cost.

The hospitality industry has changed fundamentally from one where patrons "come in after work to drink and have a smoke" to one where people drink less and have a bite to eat.

White says bars and pubs have also been hit by the fact supermarkets "give grog away almost for free".

Ministry of Health research shows there was an initial spike in supermarket liquor sales after the change in smoking laws, and a moderate drop in retail sales for bars and pubs, but this was not sustained.

Bloomfield says the law's main objective – to reduce workers' exposure to second-hand smoke – has been achieved.

"We already had a ban on smoking in office spaces so we were extending that to blue collar facilities like bars and restaurants. There was a bit of difference between Maori and non-Maori exposure in the workplace. We got rid of these quite stark inequalities."

The 2006 figures showed the number of workers exposed to smoke fell to 8% from 20%. Importantly, the numbers of non-smoking young people continues to rise, with half of teens aged 15-19 years now saying they have never even tried a puff of a cigarette compared to 39% in 2006.

Bloomfield said: "The social environment and the social context has changed...

"When this legislation was passed there was 50% public support for extending the smoke-free ban into the bars.

"Support went from under 50% to 82% within two years. Even two-thirds of smokers supported that full ban.

"The interesting thing is how quickly the public appreciate [being] smoke-free."

Sunday Star Times