The pubs and clubs sought to position those pushing for the ban as dreary "fun phobics" who never went out after dark and couldn’t stand the thought of anyone enjoying themselves with a beer and cigarette. They knew nothing of real life. They saw this as a resilient caricature that when combined with “pick a number and double it” talk of pub collapses and mass sackings would create a powerful and enduring spectre that would daunt any pragmatic cabinet minister.
The most sordid argument promoted by the pubs was that a smoking ban would gut takings including state tax income from poker machines. As a recent Tattersalls report (pdf file 118KB) put it “smoking is a powerful reinforcement for the trance-inducing rituals associated with gambling”. Going outside to have a cigarette can interrupt that trance and smokers may “be tempted to go home rather than play on”. The argument required them to blithely twin the exploitation of problem gambling with the neglect of workers’ and patrons’ health. Only the most grasping treasury mandarin could have made a public virtue of such a synergy.
Health groups saw their main hope in surfing the momentum of massive public support and positioning the pub anomaly as a political issue that demanded leadership. While the Australian Hotels Association (AHA) was intent on spraying its apocalyptic economic fantasies around, health groups ridiculed this with overseas data and admissions from internal tobacco industry documents. (“The economic arguments often used by the industry to scare off smoking ban activity … had no credibility with the public, which isn't surprising when you consider that our dire predictions in the past rarely came true.") They stuck to the core, touchstone issue of it being un-Australian to give all workers protection from passive smoking, except those who are most exposed. It resonated. Several on-line media opinion polls saw some of the largest voting numbers ever seen since the polls began, with typically 80 per cent supporting a ban.
A prominent persons advertisement was quickly pulled together. Linda Jaivin, author of prudish books like Eat Me and Confessions of an S & M Virgin, was one of the first to sign along with Rob Hirst from Midnight Oil, the well-known wowser band. Three recent Australians of the Year, one hundred professors of medicine, Tom Kenneally, Graeme Murphy, Kostya Tszyu and Australia’s last Marlboro man were among those who signed, repudiating the AHA line that this was all simply a push from a small bunch of health zealots. Responding to political intelligence that said no one cared enough about pub smoking to make it politically compelling, the Cancer Council amassed 26,000 names who poured cards and letters into local members’ offices.
Sartor convened a working group chaired by the Cabinet Office representing employers and staff in the affected industries, with Professor Jim Bishop from the newly formed Cancer Institute and some Health Department staff as the outnumbered "Daniels" in a largely hostile lion’s den. The clubs’ representative was Wayne Krelle, brother of British American Tobacco Australia CEO, Gary Krelle. Sartor wanted a report (pdf file 312KB) on when and how a ban would be introduced, not whether it would. The group met only eight times, hearing submissions but mostly going through the motions of what the hotels and clubs always perceived as an irritation that could be fixed by playing upstairs games with their political contacts and calling in the quid pro quo of political donations. As the AHA’s John Thorpe once put it “democracy is not cheap.”
Joy McKean, widow of country music icon Slim Dusty, had offered her support to the NSW Cancer Council after Slim’s death from cancer. We spoke to the Committee high up in Governor Macquarie Tower in February. I watched their faces while she talked of the decades of smoke choked rooms they’d played in. Joy quietly begged the meeting to think of the health of younger musicians who could avoid what Slim went through. When she finished, there was pin drop silence in the room. No one would meet her eye or ask a question. Months later, when she wrote a plain speaking letter to the Sunday press about lack of action, she got a personal call from Carr the same day, explaining that it had been agreed by the three states to go quiet on the announcement until after the Federal election.
In April the AHA organised an "independent" consultant, Chris Salmon, to speak to the Committee. Salmon pushed the ventilation solution and when asked by Bishop, denied that he had ever worked for the tobacco industry. Bishop later tabled a raft of embarrassing internal memos from Salmon’s previous employer, Healthy Buildings International to Philip Morris showing how Salmon had channeled information (pdf file 240KB) from a previous Standards Australia committee to the tobacco giant. Bishop successfully moved that Salmon’s submission be discarded.
Most of Europe has looked askance at what’s seen as the rampant Calvinism underscoring Scandinavian nations’ tough stance on smoking. Predictably, when Norway announced it would ban smoking in bars most of Europe yawned at the irrelevancy. But when the passionate, Guinness swilling Irish announced they were joining in and went ahead in March 2004, the damn burst. Scotland has now climbed aboard and England has put a toe in the water. Even Italy, where one could be mistaken for thinking smoking was compulsory, moved quickly to ban indoor smoking.
In the weeks before the October 13 announcement that NSW and Victoria would end smoking in pubs and clubs, the AHA abandoned whatever small respect it might have ever had for truth in argument. On September 9, the NSW AHA faxed (pdf file 51KB) their members warning, “If you don’t act NOW - the Aussie tradition of having a beer and a smoke will soon disappear forever ... your business will be DESTROYED ... your town can't face 20 per cent job losses". It urged a carpet bombing fax blitz of Sartor’s office with publicans urged to tell him: "... how much revenue you've lost because of the smoking bans introduced on 1 July 2004" (this was the heinous requirement that hotels with more than one bar needed to make one smoke free). In a touching display of newly discovered public health sensitivity, the AHA also urged reminding Sartor that bans would drive smokers back home where “they will smoke at home where children are present". This was the same AHA whose submissions to government had for years said passive smoking had not been proven to be harmful.
The AHA put it about that Ireland and New York - which had banned smoking in bars in July 2003 - were disaster zones, "61 per cent of bars in Dublin will not survive much longer … takings are down 15 per cent - 25 per cent on liquor sales alone". Irish Central Statistics Office data show March-May 2004 bar sales fell 1.3 per cent from the previous quarter, but the decrease in the same period the year before was 3.4 per cent. In New York City the AHA claimed liquor sales were down “to 40 per cent” and that "a third of bars will close within 2 years" and "up to 27 per cent of staff have lost their jobs". But US Bureau of Labor statistics (pdf file 46KB) show that employment in New York’s hospitality sector rose by 12,300 jobs in the 12 months since the ban and sales tax receipts in the sector went up 8.7 per cent.
Sartor was contemptuous of their campaign and in one memorable meeting with the AHA’s Thorpe in Sartor’s office, the shouting drew people from adjoining offices to see what was going on. Losing this one would have hung a dead albatross around the neck of his historic Cancer Institute. After more than a decade of getting their own way, the hospitality industry had run into an immovable object.
In November, on a rainy 3° evening, I stood in a packed Dublin pub watching Australia play Norway at soccer. No one smoked inside, there were no long faces, and the publican said his business had not blinked. Today people have a dim memory of the days four years back when people lit up at the next table in a restaurant, gingerly holding their smoldering cigarettes at arms length behind their chairs as if the extra 80cm distance made a difference. With pubs it is likely to be the same.
From January 2006 in Tasmania, July 2006 in Queensland and Western Australia, July 2007 in NSW and Victoria, and October 2007 in South Australia, the “inevitable” is finally happening. Ironically, Sartor’s incendiary initiative saw his own state agree to the second longest phase-in concessions to the industry who argued with a straight face that it would take them years to educate their customers and put signs on walls. The delays are disappointing, and as the months progress they will seem even more absurd. But when the history of the demise of smoking is finally written, 2004 will be seen as a vintage year, and Sartor’s efforts pivotal in one of the biggest denormalising steps that will eventually see smoking become largely a thing of the past.