Tobacco companies are planning to evade next year's smoking ban by giving thousands of pounds to pubs to spend on their outside spaces - so customers can continue to enjoy a cigarette with their drink.
Pub car parks will be converted into gardens and ramshackle seating areas will be spruced up and kitted out with heaters as the tobacco giants try to avert a catastrophic drop in business by channelling their advertising money into 'makeovers'.
Industry sources say that even though the ban on smoking in enclosed places does not take effect until next summer, marketing deals are already targeting pubs with outside space or areas that could be developed into "smoker shelters".
Under the agreements, pubs are obliged to stock certain brands exclusively in exchange for handouts of thousands of pounds.
The pub and tobacco trades have a mutual interest in sustaining smoking - a similar ban in Ireland in 2004 led to an eight per cent fall in cigarette sales and a drop of between ten and 25 per cent in drinks sales.
One pub owner in West London admitted to The Mail on Sunday that a £30,000 beer garden he is constructing on an adjacent car park "would not have been possible without BAT" - international cigarette giant British American Tobacco - which had just signed a lucrative deal with him to stock only its brands.
And Robert Shaw, owner of the Firefly bar in Clapham, South London, which has a beer garden able to seat 60 people, has secured a £3,500 arrangement with BAT to sell its Lucky Strike brand exclusively over the next two years.
He said maintaining a space to smoke was essential for his business as three-quarters of his clientele - typically young professionals - indulged in the habit.
"A Lucky Strike representative came before Christmas to set up the deal," he said. "He was saying British American Tobacco has got so much money lying around they are thinking of new ways to spend it and increase sales. The smaller business is probably going to lose trade after the smoking ban, so if a cigarette company wants to give £3,000 or £4,000 to attract smokers outside, that's great. To turn it down would be a bit silly."
Professor Gerard Hastings, of The Centre for Tobacco Control Research at Stirling University, said he was not surprised at the cigarette companies' strategies. "They will do all they can to keep their business going without any concern for public health," he added.
A spokeswoman for BAT, which also produces Dunhill and Rothmans, insisted no decisions had been made about how to adapt to the smoking ban. "We have been selling our products exclusively to pubs for some years. We are not specifically targeting pubs with outside space."
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