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Victoria’s new anti-smoking laws could actually mean food is making way for cigarettes in many of the state’s pubs, bars and restaurants, a move anti-smoking campaigners have warned against.
The new smoking laws, which came into effect on August 1, mean patrons can no longer smoke where people are eating – and vice versa.
Venues must now choose whether their outdoor space is a dining area, where smoking is banned, or a drinking area, where smoking is allowed but food is not.
Quit Victoria policy manager Kylie Lindorff said venues that chose food over smoking areas would be making a smart business decision, because more than 85 per cent of Victorians do not smoke.
“We would encourage venues to provide smoke-free outdoor dining as a priority. We believe that it’s really good for business and it’s what the majority of Victorians support,” Ms Lindorff said.
Ms Lindorff said Quit had had reports of venues banning food outdoors in favour of cigarettes.
“All the statistics show that the vast majority of people support smoke-free outdoor areas, and a lot of the public say that they would be more likely to eat in outdoor areas if they were smoke-free,” she said.
If a venue has a large outdoor area, it can have two different zones with a four-metre buffer space between them, but venues with one small space are forced to decide if people can dine out or light up.
According to Loop Roof general manager Gareth Edser, it’s great for pubs with multiple outdoor spaces or larger beer gardens, but rooftop bars and venues with only one small outdoor space will have to disappoint someone.
“The majority of venues in the city will have to just make a choice one way or the other – and I think it’s a little bit unfair,” Mr Edser said.
The Loop Roof team have decided to ban smoking until 9pm from Saturday to Thursday, and until 5pm on Fridays. This means their kitchen will close early on a Friday to accommodate smokers.
“On the Fridays we looked at our figures and the food sales at that time are tiny compared with the rest of the week,” Mr Edser said.
He said business has so far not been affected by the decision.
“We’re actually up a little bit on our figures from last year – so at the moment we’re fine,” he said. “We’ll see, we may change it again to nine o’clock, but we think at this point it’s best to make it a smoking venue on a Friday.”
Australian Hotels Association Victoria chief executive Paddy O’Sullivan said many venue owners were trying to see what will work for their businesses.
“The law provides for flexibility, so there may be some publicans out there who are just considering what is the best fit,” Mr O’Sullivan said.
He said the association is pleased with the laws as they “reflect community attitudes”.
“The al fresco dining facilities of pubs these days are fantastic, so we would certainly tell pubs not to send a message to customers that al fresco dining is not permitted – because it is and it should be encouraged,” Mr O’Sullivan said.
Ms Lindorff said a blanket ban on smoking in all areas of venues has been successful in states including Queensland and WA, and would like to see Victoria follow suit.
“It’s clearer for venues, it’s clearer for the public it’s really easy to implement and enforce,” she said.
Mr Edser said he would prefer venues have a choice.
“It’s very unique – there are more boutique, small venues in Melbourne,” he said.
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