One year on, Swedes love smoke-free bars

It is almost a year since Swedish smokers were banished from bars and restaurants, forced to huddle outside on pavements to satisfy their craving for the filthy weed.

As the anniversary of the ban approaches on June 1st, it is being judged a success. Perhaps because Swedes are used to the state telling them what to do, the prohibition on lighting up in enclosed public spaces has been welcomed even by smokers, not to mention restaurateurs, bar staff and bureaucrats.

“It’s gone very well,” said Hans Agnéus, at the Swedish Institute for Public Health, which was responsible for implementing the ban.

A survey of 91 restaurant employees before and after smokers were banished showed that their health and their working environment had improved. State pharmacy monopoly Apoteket reports that sales of nicotine replacement treatments rose by 12.6 percent in the quarter following the ban. Sales were continuing to rise in the first quarter of 2006, up 6.2 percent.

Swedish Match reported increased sales of their snus oral tobacco products.

The gambling industry was the big loser from the ban. State gambling monopoly Svenska Spel saw income from its gaming machines in bars fall by 11 percent. This was blamed partly on smokers prioritizing going outside for cigarettes over playing on the machines.

Bingo halls have also lost out. Before the ban, 80 percent of bingo hall customers were smokers. Following the ban turnover decreased by 15 percent, meaning the loss of several million kronor in revenues for the sports clubs funded by bingo income.

Only 21 percent of smokers say they resent having to smoke out in the snow in the winter. As daily smokers only account for 13 percent of the population, these opponents of the ban only account for 3 percent of the population.

The hospitality industry had strongly opposed forbidding smoking, predicting reduced turnover and a crisis for bars and restaurants.

“We were wrong, and in this case it is great to have been wrong,” said Mats Hulth, head of the Swedish Association of Hotel and Restaurant Owners.

“We have had no negative reports at all. There is a great majority in favour, both among bar owners and guests,” he said.

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