cigarette pack Cheeky, non-compliant Austrians.
UKIP can learn from them - and the Dutch.
cigarette pack

To get a better understanding of events that happen in a non-English speaking country, I find it's best to log on to one of their English language newspapers. Austria's got several, so it was painless to get the gist of local feelings about the smoking ban.

"The Local" gave a concise report in 2015 on what was planned (to extend the smoking ban to the leisure sector), why it was delayed (to give businesses time to adjust), which political parties wanted the ban extended and which opposed it (01).

The loudest voice against extending the ban was the Freedom Party, which at that time held 40 seats in the National Council because they attracted 20.5% of the vote from their 2013 election. The Freedom Party doesn't mince words, they're skeptical of the EU and righteously pissed off at being told to take lots of "refugees". Their stance on many issues, including the smoking ban, appealed to a greater number of voters and last year they were rewarded with 26% of the votes and 51 seats in the National Council (02).

As the law stands:

"Smoking is prohibited in all enclosed public spaces, with certain exceptions for eating and drinking establishments. Smoking in the workplace can be permitted if no employee working in the enclosed space objects. A January 2009 law mandates that all restaurants, bars, discos, and pubs larger than 50 m² must either be non-smoking or introduce separate smoking rooms. Below 50 m² the owner may opt to make the establishment either a smoking or non-smoking place. The law provided for a long transition phase ending July 2010. The smoking ban has since been a subject of controversy, as the rules are widely ignored by bar owners and not actively enforced by the authorities. Anti-smoking campaigners claim to have filed 18,000 reports with the authorities on non-compliant businesses since the bans were introduced, to little effect."

So with 52% of adult males and 34% of women admitting to being smokers it seems there wasn't much enthusiasm for the half-way-house measures they expected to be implemented in July 2010. To comply with "EU wishes" and backed up with the usual polls and research produced by tobacco control, the previous government decided that:

"From May 2018 smoking will be prohibited in all restaurants, bars, discos and pubs without exception. Only hotels will be allowed to have a smoking room without service (03)."

What they've got in Austria at the moment isn't very different from what they have in Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and some cantons in Switzerland with separate smoking rooms, supposedly partitioned from the rest of the premises. The only difference is the their treatment of small premises: 50 m² is "intimate" - and are most likely to be family owned and run, serving a purely local clientele.

The problem facing tobacco controllers is their most compelling argument - that non-smokers will flock to fill the space vacated by us - no longer works. People in the leisure sector have access to the web so have thousands of examples of good businesses being forced to close because smoking bans destroyed them.

That leaves them with three reasons why a total smoking ban should become mandatory. Health of bar workers and non-smokers (the second hand smoke thing) and compliance with EU wishes. The second hand smoke malarkey is growing ears and EU wishes is like a red rag to a bull in Austria. That leaves them with only one alternative - make such a nuisance of themselves that the authorities do something just to stop the racket hence the 18,000 complaints over 7 years. That led to the proposed legislation and the collapse of the coalition that agreed to it!

They did exactly the same thing in the Netherlands, with the same political consequences (the Freedom Party made significant gains, winning 20 seats - up from 15 - and are the second largest party in the House of Representatives). However it did work in the Czech Republic where their phrase of it being "the ashtray of Europe" acted to incentivise the government, with the same predictable consequences for the leisure sector (04).

Of note is the petition planned in Austria for later this year, by high profile regional politicians and a well known restaurant owner, to re-instate the smoking ban legislation. It's early days, so it'll be interesting to follow developments, especially if the petition demands some form of identification, such as a name and an Austrian address (same as our on-line ones do in UK). These must be spot checked, to avoid their usual trick of assuming identities and getting their pals elsewhere in the world to help beef up the numbers. (Meantime they've started "protests" against the Freedom Party with 20,000 people happy to support the "European Grassroots Anti-Racist Movement" that's funded by Brussels (05)).

The people who make up the Freedom Party in Austria are equally aware of what's happened in other countries and are wise to the tricks used by tobacco control. So when they were asked to join in coalition to form this government they made sure they didn't let down their supporters and one absolute condition was the May 2018 anti-smoking legislation be shelved. They did however agree to restrict the sale of tobacco products and access to smoking rooms to the over 18's - and they went along with no smoking in vehicles with an under 18 inside.

Ordinary Austrians are also aware of what's going on elsewhere in the EU - and an awful lot of them have personal experience from visits to them, so consider this demand as trivial price to pay to get a stable government in place. As the Freedom Party and the People's Party policies overlap in many areas, the difference between what they have in Austria and what's happening in Germany is always at the back of their minds. And "The Local" reported this without embellishment (06). Seems only the UK press felt this to be something extraordinary, partly because many in the media simply don't know what goes on elsewhere in Europe and assume - incorrectly - that everywhere follows the same oppressive, discriminatory system they see - and usually support - in Britain.

What's important to note is there were concessions - the minimum age for smoking has risen to 18, and no law had to be overturned. It's very difficult to overturn laws, far easier to shelve them. The Freedom Party were perfectly correct to emphasize the effect the proposed law would have on businesses as well as jobs, because these are things that really matter to workers, business owners and communities. They kill businesses and the destroy both full and part time jobs. These are straight facts; there is no case anywhere where a smoking ban has resulted in more businesses or job creation.

Having friends who got hit by this in Scotland, there's little emphasis on the thousands of part time jobs that disappear when pubs, clubs and small cafes goes under. The wages may not be much, even when tips are included, however an extra £80 - £100 for weekend shift work can make a big difference to some family budgets. And it can be one of the few times when a young person, especially young mothers can get out and enjoy adult company. I'm sure the same applies in Austria, so yes there many people in Austria who will be affected with an extension to the smoking ban.

And it resulted in a substantial gain for the Freedom Party, meaning support for people who smoke is not a vote loser. That's something The Party for Freedom in the Netherlands knows as well. They have always fought to maintain their Dutch traditions and smoking rooms are now very much a part of the landscape in Holland.

There's a message in all this for UKIP. Mr. Nuttal missed that; indeed many of the people who ran for Party Leader seemed to have no interest in smokers following the 2015 election. Mr. Bolton is their new Party Leader and faces many challenges, however he has stated that the 2015 election manifesto will be reinstated.

Encouraging news because that manifesto has the all important clause "Amend the smoking ban to promote choice for ventilated smoking rooms". Unfortunately it's no longer on their website, so we only have Bolton's word that it will return. It's crucial they make it happen, because the ONLY reason UKIP has survived is through the support of people who smoke AND those who want their business.

Been many disparaging comments about UKIP and how they're a single issue party that imploded after the Brexit vote. That's asinine and insulting to the millions who voted for them in the EU and General elections. UKIP had a comprehensive manifesto that they put together with considerable input from their rank and file membership. I liked their priorities, notably scrapping HS2 and Overseas Aid. I also liked their implied priorities that include getting shot of funding parasitic charities and NGO's.

Beneath it all is their belief in Britain, its people and the British way of life. Like the two Freedom parties in Austria and the Netherlands, they see much of value being eroded, compromised or destroyed. UKIP suffers in British politics through the first past the post system. Where that's removed, as it is in EU elections, they came out on top with a walloping 27% of the vote, beating Labour (no. 2) and the Tories (no. 3) (07).

At the 2015 elections they got close to 4 million people who voted for them. They claimed - correctly - that they managed to get people who hadn't voted for years to get out and do so. Had that election been held under proportional representation the result would have been like this.


Graph showing 2015 general election results under proportional representation.

How the 2015 General Election results would have looked under proportional representation.

Personally I believe their share of the vote would have been much higher if it had been held under PR, however even if it had not, it's clear that a coalition between the Tories, UKIP and the DUP would have been the most logical arrangement. Our negotiating team would have been very different, with a pragmatic attitude to and thorough understanding of the political elite in Brussels. By now the talking would be completed without a fraction of the bickering we're witnessing, and nowhere near the "divorce payments" we've signed up for.

As every political party, except the Conservatives, has stated they will change the voting system in Britain to proportional representation, there's everything to play for. Brexit under Ms. May will not satisfy everyone, especially those who voted for UKIP in 2015.

If Bolton can rid the party of the corrosive/myopic minority that lurks within its ranks and concentrate on their strong points they can become a force in British domestic politics. There are many issues that tie UKIP members to the party; I've mentioned overseas aid and getting us out of the EU. Closest to my heart is the smoking ban and - as Bolton will doubtless have learned, from Austria and the Netherlands, there's no need to be apologetic, or even defensive about wanting to allow smoking rooms. It is not a dead issue and never will be. And it has the added benefit of dealing with other matters that appeal to a large swathe of their supporters.

It's good for jobs, for business, for tax revenue and it will allow UKIP to immediately cease funding every one of the parasitic pressure groups funded by taxpayer money - and that includes every single organisation associated with tobacco control. Currently they go through £200 million a year of our taxes. That alone is worth hanging in there; and the eventual payoff will be worth the wait.

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Smoking Scot
January 2018