Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Smoking ban in WA

A total smoking ban inside pubs in Western Australia comes into force on Monday. I learnt this from Sam Ward's Yobbo's View blog which has been revived after a short period of inactivity.

The ban is a good move. Smoking is not prohibited but you must step outside to do so which increases the inconvenience cost of having a smoke. The ban also eliminates possible health hazards of passive smoking and eliminates the difficulty, for non-smokers, of having to put up with tobacco stench while they have a drink. These are nasty external costs that smokers impose on non-smokers. There is an informative wikipedia entry on the case for smoking bans. A ban on smoking in all pubs and clubs in Britain will be enforced from next year.

While you might argue that a mix of facilities offering the right to smoke and the right to enjoy smoke-free air might offer greater choice there are useful features of an outright ban. Those who wish to cease smoking but who experience self-control problems in giving up will benefit from the ban. This is particularly so since alcohol and cigarette consumption are strong complements - in simple language smokers particularly want to smoke while they drink and incentives to quit smoking are increased by breaking the association between having a drink and having a smoke. In addition a total smoking ban protects hotel staqff from the hazardous effects of cigarette smoke.

There are arguments that smoking bans also improve business in pubs and clubs - basically non-smokers return.

Smoking is the major preventable cause of death in the modern world today. Only libertarian crazies can oppose moves to discourage it. Oh yes, I am a bigoted ex-smoker and proud of it.


Sam Ward said...

“Some of them are banning smoking to increase business. My local bar did so not because it was compelled to do so but because customers complained about smoke.”

I’m all in favour of local businesses taking it upon themselves to do this sort of thing. They should be allowed to ban smoking if they think it will increase business. Equally, they should be allowed to allow smoking if they think it will increase business.

I wouldn’t visit a non-smoking bar but I fully support their right to exist. And that is the difference between you and me.

Would it really hurt you if a bar you never went to allowed smoking inside? No. But still you demand it be smoke-free.

“I agree the evidence on passive smoking is questionable. I still don’t want to inhale someone else’s cigarette smoke.”

And as a sufferer of grass allergies and asthma, I don’t want to inhale grass clippings or pollen. In fact the health risk to me from grass cuttings is much, much higher than the risk anybody suffers from passive smoking. Yet I do not have the right to call for banning of grass or lawns in the state.

At least if you don’t want to inhale cigarette smoke you can just not go to the pub. I can’t do anything about environmental grass particles.

mlesich said...

Since sam has pretty much raised the same points that I was going to bring up, I'll keep this brief.

What I want to know is what qualifications you have that allow you to run their lives and their businesses.

And secondly, what's wrong with advocating the elimination of policies that help shield people from the consequences of smoking

And Harry, was the name-calling really necessary?

hc said...

Mlesich, I am an economist interested in external costs - unpaid for costs that some people impose on others.

I express views on public policies - I don't have the ability to implement any policy or control anyone's life.

I checked what I wrote and couldn't see any name-calling.

Bring Back EP at LP said...

agree with Sam,
what a Yobbo!!

conrad said...

I disagree with Sam -- but more on a techical matter. If second hand smoke is potentially harmful to 100% of people, then I don't see how you can legitametly exposure employees (potentially including yourself) to it given that it is avoidable.

Sam Ward said...

"If second hand smoke is potentially harmful to 100% of people"

Which it isn't. Annoying: Yes, but harmful? If the government could prove that they'd be putting that in the ads. They can't.

But even so, let's just say for the sake of argument that second-hand smoke IS harmful to 100% of people.

There are many other industries in which people work with harmful chemicals or toxins on a daily basis, but we don't ban them.

It would be quite possible for my Dad to grow wheat without exposing himself or other workers to Superphosphate.

Of course we wouldn't grow as much wheat and would make less money, but we wouldn't be exposed to harmful substances.

The government rightly recognise that there are some jobs where people accept a small risk in return for greater rewards. Mining workers who work underground or with explosives are paid extra to allow for the risk of physical injury they are undertaking.

There is no reason at all why hospitality workers could not be offered "danger money" to work in a bar where they will be exposed to second-hand cigarette smoke. But the government will not even allow this, instead insisting on a blanket ban.

There is no point trying to excuse this legislation for anything other than what it really is: The thin end of the wedge of the eventual goal, which is total prohibition of tobacco.

hc said...

I think the WA authorities have cigarette smoking at very low levels now. So Sam, I agree with these further actions they are trying to eliminate its use.

I'd be interested in knowing how many long-term smokers think it was a good idea to initiate the habit and have no regrets for having chosen to smoke. Maybe there is data on this somewhere.

The difficulty is that people initiate smoking in their youth when their discount rates are high - when they are relatively impulsive. Its when they are older that they regret their choices but by then they are suffering from bronchitis, emphysema and face a high risk of cardio-vascular disease and lung cancer.

David Jeffery said...

Nice post Harry. I find the economics of this fascinating. Or at least reconciling the economic theory with what happens in practice.

Perhaps I'm not in a typical demographic but I and most people I know absolutely hate smoky pubs and bars. This even includes some friends who curiously enough are smokers but still hate smoky pubs - they'd rather go outside to smoke (they enjoy smoking but don't enjoy having the smell lingering in their hair and clothes when they're not smoking), and they don't smoke indoors around non-smokers and don't like it when other people do. I imagine that's quite unusual though.

What I can't work out is why so very few pubs and bars voluntarily go smoke free when (if I recall the figure) something like 80% of people apparently say they prefer smoke free pubs. You'd expect to see a mix of smoky and smoke-free pubs in the absence of a ban but you see very very few smoke-free pubs.

Why is there not a market for smoke-free pubs? Is there some kind of market failure? If so, what is it?

In theory I agree with Sam and others who question why they should be denied the option of smoking in a pub if there's a pub where everyone's happy with that arrangement. But equally I'd really like to go out without breathing smoke and smelling like crap and the reality is that it's extremely difficult to do that in a State where there isn't such a ban. Why is the free market not providing opportunities for both smokers and non-smokers to enjoy their respective nights out? It puzzles me...

conrad said...

Sam: I'm not sure where the dividing line is between danger in the workplace and neccesity of the work, but there has to be a dividing line somewhere (I can't, for instance, pay someone more to work down an asbestos mine). So I think that, to some extent, this argument boils down to where people think the dividing line is. At present, this appears based on legal precedent -- companies now get sued for passive smoking, but not for, say, cancer caused by superphosphate (although whether the latter is worse for you I wouldn't know -- so it doesn't neccesarily boil down to a logical argument). It would be interesting to see what would happen if people started suing others for cancer due to fertilizers and so on.

Sam Ward said...

"What I can't work out is why so very few pubs and bars voluntarily go smoke free when (if I recall the figure) something like 80% of people apparently say they prefer smoke free pubs."

The short answer is that people rank smoking/non-smoking way down on the list of priorities when they choose a pub to go to.

The most important priorities are

#1 attractiveness or desirability of other patrons

#2 quality of music and/or entertainment

#3 drink prices.

When 80% say that they prefer non-smoking pubs, what they really mean is "all other things being equal". The problem is that all other things are never equal, because non-smoking pubs are filled with less interesting people who tend to be more anal and less interested in having a good time.

The other side of the coin is that Australia's (and WA in particular) liquor licensing laws are so stringent that there is very little opportunity for "niche bars" to exist.

To even obtain a liquor license in Western Australia you have to firstly buy another pub that is closing down (because the amount of licenses are fixed and new licences are very rarely issued) and then spend another $300,000-400,000 on legal fees in attempting to secure approval to run a licenced premises in your new venue.

This in effect means that running a bar is out of reach to all but the most wealthy investors, and also that any bar opened must be able to accommodate at least 200 people in order to turn a profit on the money spent opening it.

In most normal (Read: Not backwards hillbilly) countries, opening a bar is as simple as opening a market stall. You buy a business licence and stick it on your wall, and you are open. This means that any sole operator with a suitable premises can have a crack at running a small bar (say one that accommodates only 20-30 people at maximum capacity), and can try out whatever niche market he wants (say a non-smoking bar for example).

When you are forced to open a premises that caters to 200+ people, you can't really afford to market to anything except the mainstream.

This is why 95% of bars and pubs in Australia are exactly the same, serve the same drinks, play the same music, attract the same crowds and bore you to tears in exactly the same fashion.

Do you know of any Country Music bars in Australian Cities? In New York City there is one every 5 blocks - and yet Country Music is a lot more popular in Australia than in NYC.

Or swing music bars? Martini bars? Goth bars? Not many, especially in Perth. If you don't have a cover band that plays Hoodoo Gurus and AC/DC then you might as well not even be open.

So in answer to your question "Why is the free market not providing opportunities for both smokers and non-smokers to enjoy their respective nights out?"

The answer is that there IS no free market in Australia, and never has been. And instead of making moves to deregulate it to improve things, we are instead subject to harsher and harsher regulations with each passing year - this new smoking ban just being one of the examples.

Here are things that have been made illegal in WA pubs in just the 11 years that I have been old enough to legally drink:

1. Topless barmaids
2. Serving alcohol to "drunk" patrons
3. Shooters/Shots
4. Happy Hours
5. Promotions involving discounted drinks or free drinks.
6. Smoking

And probably many more that I can't think of off the top of my head.

In 20 years time, you will have to buy alcohol at a chemist, if you can buy it at all.

David Jeffery said...

Sam, I think your liquor licensing point is a good one.