A RETURN of smoking rooms in UK social clubs must remain a pipe dream, according to South Tyneside ‘committee men’.
At a Club and Institute Union (CIU) conference in Blackpool this weekend, the national executive will call for Government support to revive ailing clubs nationwide.
And one of the suggestions being put forward is for venues to be allowed to have separate smoking areas.
It’s now almost five years since a smoking ban in public places was introduced – which has coincided with the decline in fortunes and closure of many traditional clubs and pubs.
Now CIU bosses want ministers to relax the rules to allow one room to be accessed by smokers – who they claim have deserted clubs in droves since the ban came into force.
But the proposal has met with a largely negative response from club officials locally.
George Dowling, chairman of Hebburn Legion Club in Mountbatten Avenue, believes there is no going back from the 2007 ban.
He said “times have changed” and the majority of club-goers now welcome a smoke-free environment.
Mr Dowling added: “Speaking personally, not on behalf of members of the club, I would be very much against a return of smoking rooms.
“Time has moved on and a majority of our members don’t smoke – I’d say the breakdown is now probably 60 to 40 per cent. That’s a big change over 20 years ago.
“People have got used to a smoke-free environment. We have a smoking shelter outside the club, and members seem perfectly happy to go there.
“As a club we are doing OK, and one of the reasons is that we have a very clean premises.
“People appreciate not sitting next to someone whose clothes are smelling of cigarettes.
“A return to smoking rooms would be a retrograde step in my opinion.”
That’s a view echoed by former chairman Maxie Walsh, who added: “It’s wonderful to go into a club that’s not filled with cigarette smoke – and that’s the view of a former chain smoker!” However, smoking rooms did receive a thumbs-up from Martin Hubbert, secretary of The Percy Club in Whitehead Street, Tyne Dock, South Shields.
He believes the smoking ban helped spark a severe decline in the fortunes of social clubs.
Mr Hubbert said: “I’m not saying it was 100 per cent responsible, but it was largely to blame.
“We had a smokers’ area before the ban, where the smokers stuck to. It should be allowed again.
“People can always make up their own minds whether they come into the club or not. It’s a free choice.”
In an article in the latest edition of the Club Journal, the magazine for CIU members, a spokesman for the national executive, says: “The executive recognises that the smoking ban will not be overturned, but has reaffirmed its policy for separate smoking rooms, which is in line with the overriding principle of freedom in the whole western culture - that you are free to do anything that does not harm others.
“It’s highly dubious whether smokers harm other people even when in the same room – the evidence is not conclusive.
“This motion would also ensure that non-smoking staff would not be expected to work in - or even clean - smoking rooms.
“Good ventilation and a ban on smoking at the bar already means that the whole passive smoking argument is ridiculous.”