Clearing the air: Banning smoking in pubs

pub smoking

Tom Nichols, 72, of Red Hill, at the Kingston Hotel (ACT)… “A pub’s a pub and if you want to smoke there, there’s nothing wrong with it. They’ll be stopping us going to the toilet soon.” Picture: Graham Tidy, Canberra Times Thursday February 18 1993

TOM Nicholls had been drinking at the Kingston Hotel in the Australian Capital Territory for 30 years in 1993 when the push started to ban smoking in pubs.

Australian pubs were notorious for smoke filled rooms, with long ash-trays, skirting the floor along the length of the bar-counter, full of smouldering cigarette butts. Reminders of those smoky days with the bar-floor ash-trays can still found in some older pubs.

Health concerns finally sounded the death knell for smoking in pubs in Australia.

The ACT became the first Australian jurisdiction to ban smoking in enclosed areas of pubs and clubs in 1994. Tom Nichols, 72, was approached for his view on the proposed ban by a reporter from the Canberra Times on February 18 1993.

The returned soldier had “smoked his way across Italy, France, Egypt and Africa with the British 8th Army” and went to the pub at one o’clock every day, where he stayed until he was ready to go home”, reported the Times. He took a dim view of the impending ban in ACT pubs.

“I’m entitled to smoke if I want to,” he said as he studied the form guide. I enjoy cigarettes. What’s wrong with that?”

Tom told reporter Verona Burgess that the ban would not stop him coming to the pub – “he’d nip outside for a smoke – but it wouldn’t be the same”.

By 2007 all Australian states and territories, with the exception of the Northern Territory, had banned smoking in pubs. There were exceptions, with some pubs setting aside well-ventilated rooms as special smoking areas.

The Canberra Times reported on Thursday February 18 1993:

Publicans and patrons amazed


Tom Nicholls, 72, has been going to the public bar at the Kingston Hotel for 30 years.

Tom, a returned soldier who smoked his way across Italy, France, Egypt and Africa with the British 8th Army, goes to the pub at one o’clock every day and stays until he’s ready to go home.

He took a dim view yesterday of the news that smoking might be banned in all public places in the ACT.

“I’m entitled to smoke if I want to,” he said as he studied the form guide. “I enjoy cigarettes. What’s wrong with that?”

He wouldn’t stop coming to the pub if smoking was banned – he’d nip outside for a smoke – but it wouldn’t be the same.

A pub’s a pub and if you want to smoke there, there’s nothing wrong with it. They’ll be stopping us going to the toilet soon.”

The owner of the Kingston Hotel, Steve Dawn, was amazed at the news.

“Are you telling me that the ACT Labor Party is planning to ban smoking in public places?” he asked. “Of course smoking should be allowed and I will continue to allow it if I can.

“A pub is a place where people should have the option. It isn’t like an office, or the dole queue, or any other place where people have to go. It’s a matter of choice. If it is allowed – and I allow it and shall continue to, if I can – you can go across the street to another pub if you don’t like it. There’s no compulsion. A pub is a bit like your own house or backyard. If your neighbours don’t like you, they don’t have to come to dinner.”

His clients in the public bar agreed. Steve, they said, was a good bloke who had exhaust fans anyway. He also had swing doors separating the bar from the food area.

“We follow the dress rules but we still want to have a smoke with our drinks,” said one. “Can you imagine saying, ‘Oh, sorry, I’ll finish the joke in a sec, I just have to nip out for a smoke’? Next thing you know, people will be smoking in the toilets!”

A pub wouldn’t be a pub unless you could have a smoke. It “knocks out” the atmosphere, the client said.

“Thirty years ago there was none of this rubbish. Now there’s greenies saying you can’t chop down trees, experts telling you not to catch diseases. Well, people were dying 30 years ago and they still went to public bars and reached 90 or 100. So what’s the difference?”

The main issue, said one client, was the individual rights of a person in a public area. There were too many people in society who thought they could set moral standards and indoctrinate others.

Another philosopher took the view that if you had a new toy and someone came up in the street and grabbed it, you’d miss it. “But if they took it off you slowly, you wouldn’t miss it,” he said.“That’s freedom and that’s what they are doing to ours.”

Yet another refused to enter the conversation, saying in disbelief, “You’ve got the wrong party. It’s the Hewson mob that would do that, not Labor.”

The last bloke took a more sanguine view. “The world’s over-populated so why not cull a few of us by letting us smoke?,” he said.

Some of Canberra’s larger establishments were more cautious about entering the debate.

The manager of the Canberra Casino was not available for comment but a spokeswoman said it was not possible to arrange a photograph even with due notice.

“I don’t think it’s a matter we want to be associated with,” she said, conceding however that it was true that the Casino had lobbied the Liberal Health spokesman, Kate Carnell, about potentially enormous loss of revenue for the casino.

The general manager of the Labor Club, Frank Balzary, said he would make no comment at this stage because he had not had a chance to look at the draft legislation or to think out the implications.

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