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New Zealand: hospitality trade’s “mindset” problem
  1. George Thomson
  1. Wellington Medical School, University of Otago, New Zealand;

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    The Hospitality Association of New Zealand (HANZ) has been opposing the idea of smoke-free bar laws for many years. It has rejected the evidence from countries where smoke-free bar laws have not hurt bar profits, and has actively pushed for the ventilation “solution”.

    Since 1998 or before, HANZ’s spokesman Bruce Robertson has been saying that a smoking ban in bars “would have a major negative impact on business”. This is despite acknowledging that as far back as 1996, a survey in Dunedin found smoke was the most common cause of complaints by people who had recently visited bars and taverns, and the main reason people had stopped going. In 2000, Robertson was reported as predicting that a ban would result in a loss of business for the trade, a 10% loss of jobs, and the rise of “quasi-legal or unlicensed” bars; and in May 2003, a HANZ survey indicated that 23% of the nation’s licensed premises expected to close if smoke-free bars were enforced, with 40% anticipating a 30% drop in income.

    In December 2003, the New Zealand parliament passed a law banning smoking in bars, with effect from December 2004. In July 2004, Robertson was reported as saying that HANZ members were concerned, as “reports in Ireland, where all workplaces became smoke-free in March, suggest revenue dropped 30%. In New York, where bars and restaurants went smoke-free from January 1 last year, some bar owners reported an initial drop of up to 50%.”

    But in an article in a trade magazine in August 2004, Robertson took a very different line, writing that, “There are a number of steps that can be taken, including a difficult shift in mind set... the Hospitality Association is working with the Ministry of Health to develop a public relations campaign which will not only inform the public of the new legislation but will also encourage patrons to support smoke-free bars… It is important as an industry that we do not again predict gloom and doom by publicly suggesting that our smoking patrons will now no longer want to socialise in bars and restaurants. There is a real danger that if the industry suggests this outcome it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Much as it goes against the grain, industry must explore opportunities to encourage smokers to continue to support licensed premises and look to find new markets amongst those who supposedly are not currently in bars and restaurants because of cigarette smoke.”

    This is a rare and important example of the hospitality industry admitting that its previous stance was a “mind set” (though without mention of the inevitable and malign tobacco industry influence), and could result in “a self-fulfilling prophecy” of poor business for some. Perhaps New Zealand’s hospitality trade could learn from the entrepreneurial flair of Ireland’s famous pubs, whose trade association in Dublin quickly adopted a slogan boasting, “The atmosphere’s got even better”.