Bring on the full smoking ban already

It’s great to see a reporter confirming what anyone who’s visited a pub recently already knows: that the final step in our gradual transition to a full ban of smoking inside pubs is unworkable and stupid. Speaking as an asthmatic who finds smoky environments extremely oppressive and also objects to being forced to endure smoke that a) stinks b) makes your clothes pong for days and c) gives you cancer, next July’s total ban can’t come around quickly enough.

But despite them “openly flouting” the ban, I don’t think the Department of Health should run around busting pubs for these silly infractions on technicalities. I think it should acknowledge that its gradual approach was foolish, and we should just wait until July and then it’ll all be over.

In a typical Bob Carr offend-nobody move, the change to smoke-free pubs was put through at a glacially slow rate to spread the political grief. The complete ban arrives at the point where he’s no longer in politics, of course – and just after the next state election in March. What an infuriatingly cynical approach. Of course, by the 2011 election, everyone will be used to it.

So until it’s electorally convenient for the ALP, we have laws so artificial that in most pubs, they simply don’t work. The current rules say:

• smoking is allowed in a maximum of one room, whether it is a bar, gaming or recreation room. This smoking room must not exceed 25% of the total combined area of bar/gaming/recreational rooms.

• if a venue consists of a single room (i.e. a single undivided enclosed space comprising bar/gaming/recreation area), then smoking is permitted in up to 25% of that bar/gaming/recreation area

As the example of the Clare Hotel cited in the article shows, not many pubs have an ideal smaller smoking room that is no more than 25% the size of their floorspace. Patrons at the Clare regularly come within 1.5m of the bar, which maintains the passive smoking risk. But otherwise they’d be pressed up against a pokie. It’s absurd.

And some pubs have only one room, and how silly is the rule for those venues? 25% of the same room isn’t much help at all if you end up sitting right next to people in the smoking bit. It reminds me of the time I flew British Airways and was seated one row away from the smoking section, and forced to inhale the frenzied puffing of chain smokers throughout the flight.

Bob Carr should have bitten the bullet and put in an immediate ban. Did he think people were going to slowly give up smoking during the gradual phasing-out? That they’d be down to 25% of that original pack a day by now and be able to flick off the switch come July. It was a politically gutless move.

The lameness of this kind of approach is also evident in the way they introduced electronic tolling. In Victoria, Jeff Kennett decided that everyone had to get an e-tag immediately or pay a fine, so everyone got one. In Sydney, we’re still forced to endure unnecessary queues on our freeways because of manual tolling. On the Harbour Bridge, these queues can add half an hour to the journey. They should set aside one tollbooth for cash on the Bradfield only, and let the people who can’t be bothered getting a tag wait for an hour in a queue. That’d make them get an e-tag.

The NSW Labor Party constantly takes an annoying, inconvenient middle ground to avoid offending people. John Howard never minds about offending the minority, but Carr and Iemma seem to want everyone to sort of mildly like them, so they never show any leadership.

Thank goodness that by July, the problem will finally be solved. There won’t be foolish arbitrary 25% lines that are impossible to interpret. If it’s an indoor space, you won’t be able to smoke there, and no-one will be happier about that than me.

Dominic Knight