Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Big British Butt Ban

SATURDAY SATURDAY SATURDAY, the Big British Butt Ban goes into effect!

From Jul 1 you will no longer be able to smoke anywhere indoors in England. I’m so curious to see how this unfolds. Having been in New York in ’02 when the smoking ban went into effect there, I’m interesting to see how this city’s reaction will differ. Frankly I’m surprised that they’ve chosen to do the switchover in the summer like NYC did, because that ended up causing quite a problem.

The first state in the US to start a smoking ban was California (which tends to be on the forefront of things like this). There it worked quite well, and there weren’t any problems during the changeover.

So when mayor Bloomberg passed the same ban in New York City, they expected it would go off just as smoothly. But they were forgetting on difference between New York and the main cities in California (LA, San Diego and San Francisco). Because of the warmer climate, many (if not most) bars in California have some kind of outdoor section or courtyard. In contrast, this is quite rare in NYC, as space constraints would make a courtyard very expensive and weather makes it financially impractical (why pay extra rent for a space you can only use 5 months out of the year?)

Also, California’s cities are quite spread out, and it would be unusual for someone to live directly above a bar. In New York, however, many (if not most) bars are on the ground floor of apartment buildings, meaning many people live directly above a watering hole (I myself lived right above a bar in Soho for awhile. Not fun).

So, what ended up happening on the first day of the smoking ban is all the people who smoked (which at that time in NYC was quite a lot) had to leave the bar to do so, because there was nowhere within the premises they could smoke. So they congregated outside the bar entrances. Well soon these crowds grew to enormous sizes, and in some places hanging outside the bar was cooler than being inside it. So the people who lived above bars started calling the police to complain about the noise. And so the cops were running around town slapping bars with $2,000 noise violations rather than enforcing the actual smoking ban. Eventually the bars had to forbid their patrons from congregating directly outside their doors, having to hire people full time to stand outside and make people stand 10 feet away (so the bar couldn’t be fined for the noise they were making). It was a fun time actually, the streets of the east village had this carnival-like atmosphere, with everyone hanging out outside and hopping from one bar to another (you’d sometimes forget where you even were originally). Don’t forget that in the US you can’t drink on the street, so this whole ‘hanging out outside the bar’ thing hadn’t really existed before.

Now this same situation won’t happen in London for two reasons. One, in London it is already customary for people to take their drinks outside onto the sidewalk and hang out there, given that air conditioning seems to be a foreign concept in this country and it can get quite hot inside. So, the amount of people outside, over the summer at least, wont’ change. But also keep in mind here that the pubs here must legally close at 11. So really, the people being outside was never a problem before because you can’t make a noise violation complaint that early (and really, if you’re going to sleep before 11, you need to get a life).

But what about clubs? I’ve noticed that clubs here normally don’t allow reentry. But once the smoking ban starts, unless they have some kind of courtyard, they’ll have to allow you to leave so that you can smoke. So this will create a crowd of people outside clubs into the wee hours of the morning, something not seen now because the clubs don’t allow you outside. Will this create a slew of noise violation complains in the middle of the night? (For clarification, “pubs” are bars that have no cover charge and must close at 11, “clubs” can be open later but have to charge a cover to make up for the cost of the late license. It’s all a little confusing, and lame).

What’s also interesting is that I would say there are more smokers in London in 2007 than there were in New York in 2002. In fact most people I know here smoke (a dramatic contrast to the US, where basically none of my friends smoke). Given that police officers are less present and less respected here than they are in the US, will this law be able to be effectively enforced? Who knows. People said it wouldn’t work in New York, but it has.

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