Monday, January 8

Mid-year clean air

Down Under is traditionally considered behind the times. However I'm often surprised how backward the UK regarding several social trends. For example, late night closing for pubs and bars kicked off shortly before our arrival in London. Meanwhile most of my favourite Sydney bars have been open until dawn for (far too) many years. In fact, in more recent times, some have extended their hours to the point they're basically trading 24 hours a day.

The latest social trend finally reaching London is the banning of smoking in public venues including pubs and restaurants. The ban comes into force in July this year. I was staggered when we first arrived to discover that smoking was still permitted in such places. One year on and it still surprises me to see someone light up in a restaurant or have clothes reeking of cigarette smoke after a night out.

The contrast with Sydney really stood out when Garry and I went back last year. We caught up with friends one evening in town, eventually ending up in a fantastic new nightclub. I recall being astonished at the clarity and freshness of the air despite standing in a large, very crowded venue. The venue also had a soaring atrium and lots of shiny glass surfaces. As a result, the combination of indoor space and smoke-free atomsphere made me wonder if I'd stepped into a science fiction movie, one in which the future is portrayed as green, clean and almost antiseptic.

This scene in Sydney should reassure UK publicans who fear that a smoking ban will dramatically reduce customers coming through their doors. A similar ban in Scotland saw sales fall 10% in the first few months but have since recovered. The experience in Sydney proves that punters still like a drink or two, even if they can't light up inside. I hasn't realised how normal clean air had become in a bar until I came to London. It's surprising what you get use to.

The UK is not alone when it comes to smoking in public places. Smoking continues in a manner of public spaces across Europe. So much so that I'm continually surprised where the smell of cigarette smoke is present. I've noticed it in airport terminals, shopping malls, restaurants, theatre lobbys and other public spaces where smoking has long been banned in Australia.

In fact, one of the few public spaces in London where smoking is genuinely banned is the Underground. Here a smoking ban came was finally enforced following the tragic Kings Cross station fire in 1987. This particular fire was started by a smoker dropping a match onto a wooden escalator. The sad irony is that a smoking ban had actually been put in place two years earlier.

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