Biased BBC: Curious case of the forgotten smoking ban

The BBC is guilty of 'churnalism' once again as the smoking ban is completely ignored as a cause of Britain's boarded-up pubs

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David Atherton
On 14 January 2013 13:13

Like Katie Price’s neck line, profits plunged. The converted non-smoking pubs saw profits drop by 20 percent. Revenues fell by 7.6 percent. Fruit machines and alcohol sales were hit particularly hard (25 percent and 17 percent respectively). By February 2006 the project was abandoned as a complete failure, only to be replicated in the UK by law.

The British Institute of Inn Keeping found barely a year after the ban in September 2008 that: “The proportion of smoking customers dropped from 54% to 38%; 66% reported that their smoking customers were staying for shorter periods; 75% reported that smokers were visiting less frequently; 47% of businesses had laid off staff, although 5% had recruited additional staff; Income from drinks fell by 9.8%; Income from gaming machines fell by 13.5%.”

It concluded: "The smoking ban has had a serious and continuing effect on trade with the very important custom of smokers much diminished, and little positive news in terms of increased non smokers or family business."

This study is by no means unique. AC Nielsen and PricewaterhouseCoopers reached similar conclusions.

With 9,534 pubs closed out of 58,200, a staggering 16.4 percent of our pubs have disappeared. What is more, the average pub employs (directly and indirectly) 10 people so some 100,000 people will have lost a job.

The Publican’s Morning Advertiser reported that 68.3 percent of pubs want to introduce a smoking room. It is worth noting that pubs remain private property and smoking remains legal. 

And as for the medical establishment and the harm of second hand smoke (SHS), well, frankly, I believe SHS is one of the greatest pieces of unreconstructed, erroneous spin ever invented. Non-smokers breathe in 1/100th to 1/10,000th of what a smoker does. Make your own estimations as to what those figures would be when a smoker is smoking in a separate room.

I have been interviewed many times by the BBC, on TV and radio, and have found it, by and large, to be quite fair. Some presenters obviously do not like smoking and have a wagging finger, some are sympathetic. And if you do not like tough questions or an aggressive line against you, do not put your head above the parapet and say yes to the researcher.

But the BBC’s latest piece on pub closures does not even mention the smoking ban as a possible cause of pub closures, let alone point out it may be the fundamental reason. Many of its Health Correspondents are only too happy to indulge in unprofessional journalism, cutting and pasting Department of Health and ASH press releases and presenting them as fact. This ‘churnalism’ is no more than the politically correct prejudices of the writer.

The BBC was keen in November 2011, for example, to cut and paste the British Medical Association’s (BMA) press release “...research showing the levels of toxins in a car can be up to 23 times higher than in a smoky bar.” At the time I pointed out (via Chris Snowdon) on the radio that even anti-smokers view this as junk science and that the Canadian Medical Association Journal had said: “We recommend that researchers and organizations stop using the 23 times more toxic factoid because there appears to be no evidence for it in the scientific literature.” The BMA was forced to retract and apologise; the BBC was guilty of printing ill-researched inaccuracies.

We may not get an apology on this occasion. But it’s worth remembering why others have been issued in the past. And from a public-funded broadcaster we deserve far better.

David Atherton is Chairman of Freedom2Choose, which seeks to protect the informed choices of consenting adults on the issues of smoking. Follow him on Twitter: @DaveAtherton20

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