Some bar and club owners in St Helena fear their trade will suffer when tight smoking restrictions are introduced on 1 July 2012. But others are optimistic.
The Tobacco Control Ordinance takes effect five years to the day after smoking was banned in public buildings in England. Critics blamed it for increased pub closures, but others – including the Campaign for Real Ale – said it encouraged new customers into bars.
Diana Roberts, owner of the White Horse in Jamestown, said: “Definitely it will affect my bar. We get the fishermen: they come in from a hard day’s work, they enjoy their beer, they want a cigarette.”
Publican Diana was one of six panellists in a studio debate hosted by Saint FM on Wednesday.
She was joined by Frank Wastell, Crown Counsel; Jeremy Cairns-Wicks of the police; Georgina Young of the health service; Hazel Wilmott, owner of the Consulate Hotel, and Vince Thompson of the St Helena Independent.
Diana told listeners business was already difficult without the ban. “This last year I have only been able to employ one bartender because business has gone downhill. They did say tourists would bring in lots of business but that’s definitely not happening here.”
Designated smoking areas will be allowed if they are ventilated and seperate from the main premises, but that will not be possible for some buildings with limited space, including the White Horse. Diana said she had applied to be exempted from the ban on that basis, though it appears the new law will not allow that.
Vince Thompson said: “I can’t think of any bar or similar where that could happen without a lot of building works going on. Building work costs money.
“It’s all losing trade and extra expense and I can see it is a worry to people trying to make money providing goods and service. Is this the right time to introduce the bill?”
He also said the rules tackled the problem the wrong way round. “There has to be choice.
“It’s so difficult on an island of 4,000 people to make a living selling goods to that small number of people. There are serious implciations for business. There should have been a framework that offers choice.
“If people want to go into a place that’s full of smoke, go and do it. But there has to be somewhere for everyone else.”
But Jeremy Cairns-Wicks of St Helena police – a smoker himself – he favoured the ban.
“We are not looking at a society that has to endure cold winters,” he said. “People can go outside to smoke.
“We don’t have snow, we don’t have howling winds. They have introduced the same sort of thing in the Falklands and they do have snow and they do have howling wind, and it’s working there.”
Hazel Wilmot said she did not think her business would suffer because she had a large amount of outside seating.
She said: “I endorse [the ban]. As we serve food, it is a far healthier situation. We do not have ash blowing around into people’s food.
“We have guests who will not go into the bar because that area becomes smoke congested. They would like to go to the bar and chat with their friends. They won’t because smoke affects them.
“I’m in favour [of the ban], but I see where the rest of the proprietors are coming from.”
Saint FM contacted bar and club owners around the island for their views.
Pub Paradise at Longwood: said people abused smoking in bars. Even though he had a large patio, “people prefer to just sit there when someone is eating and blow their smoke out. There is no respect.
He was on the Falklands when the no-smoking law was enforced there. “Business picked up, so people got used to it.”
Johnny Dillon of The Standard said that personally, he was against smoking. He thought the ban would not affect his bar “as people go out and stand on the steps now. People respect that.”
Derek George, owner of the Silver Hill bar, was against the ban because most of his customers were smokers. When he asked their views, “they said they like to have a cigarette and drink and stand at the bar in comfort.”
Melvyn Benjamin at the Godfather’s Club was against the ordinance because he would lose business. Customers would refuse to go to his bar.
Donny Stevens said he had implemented a non-smoking area in the big bar at Donny’s for the past two and a half years, initially with no shelter on the deck. “People have come to respect that.” He did it for the health of his bar staff and customers who don’t smoke. He said business had picked up.
One listener to the Saint FM programme said: “I was in UK when the no-smoking legislation was brought in. Of course there was resistence. Within three months you could see this was the right thing to do.
“Proprietors went through expense to provide smoking areas but now it is a way of life.”