With the smoking ban in England now less than seven weeks away, is the business community geared up for the changes this will bring? Graeme King examines the evidence.
A huge cultural shift will take place in the North-East when the ban on smoking in enclosed public places in England is introduced on July 1.
Superficially, a night out in a pub or a club will have a totally different feel to it for all of us, but more significantly, all those who currently work in smoky environments will have the right to be protected.
And that is not just pubs and clubs, but any enclosed workplace - including vehicles used by more than one individual. The end of the rank, overflowing company car ashtray is nigh.
But on a grander scale, the ban will hail a complete change in attitude to public health. For once, legislation has not been watered down to suit a particular interest group. There has been no Bernie Ecclestone figure this time, able to persuade the powers that be to make an exception.
And the ban will swiftly be followed, on October 1, with the legal age for buying cigarettes being raised to 18. It all has the feel of a new dawn, or a new era of Big Brother government, depending on your view.
Regardless of which way you view the ban, it will affect us all in different ways. New Yorkers, the Irish and the Scots already have quite some experience of how it all works, and the Welsh and Northern Irish have just joined them.
There are of course a number of dissenting voices, but most reports indicate that those living in cities or countries where a ban applies appreciate the changes it has brought.
From a business point of view, the obvious sector to struggle will be the licensed trade and many bar chains have already issued profit warnings. There is already evidence that many are making plans, with some larger groups disposing of premises they don't feel will work in the post-ban environment and others seeking planning permission to erect canopies or awnings to accommodate smokers.
Newcastle's Bob Senior, now head of Utopian Leisure and previously with rival Ultimate, has boasted that his Box nightclub has the largest smoking terrace in the city, and his former employer is investing in new terrace areas at bars such as Chase, on the Quayside.
Meanwhile those supplying external equipment such as ashtrays, furniture, canopies and smoking shelters are all set to benefit.
There is also going to be a mini-boom in refurbishment of licensed premises running up to July 1. Many big operators are taking the opportunity to start the new era with a fresh lick of paint, which won't be yellowing quite as quickly as the old one. Geoff Hodgson, managing director of Northumbrian Taverns, which runs former Federation Brewery pubs and clubs, said his company had already adjusted its model to take account of the smoking ban.
He said: "We are only taking on new properties where there is potential to put in an external area with a canopy over it.
"Since a year ago, we have changed the way we operate. We are fortunate - some other operators have conducted mass sell-offs of pubs where there is no potential for smoking after July 1.
"Pubs where it is possible to go and smoke - they will attract people. We are looking at the gold standard of an external canopy with some form of heating underneath, and an arrangement to put a shelf on or a table. We are also working on having a security camera trained on them so we are supervising the area.
"In some places you may end up with the Irish experience, where you have to leave your glass inside, with a bar mat over the top."
Mr Hodgson recognises the arguments on both sides of the ban debate. "Smoking is part of the culture in a pub, but friends of mine have said they will be going back to pubs now because they won't stink of smoke any more," he says.
He said one unusual potential downside of the ban, which he has heard reported from Ireland, could be a need for more carpet cleaning.
He said: "It seems previously the smell of smoke in a pub there was masking other smells.
"So carpet cleaning companies were getting called in to get rid of `strange smells' when this was just the same as before, but not masked by smoke. So that is one knock on effect - the cost of maintaining carpets."
Newcastle Primary Care Trust senior health promotion officer Judith MacMorran said: "We are preparing businesses for the ban by raising awareness.
"The businesses who will benefit, in the licensed trade, are those who have diversified into serving food.
"The experience in the US and Ireland is that more businesses in the hospitality sector have opened than those that have closed, since the bans were introduced.
"And all the research shows that the legislation is needed and very much wanted. The majority of people want smoke free legislation.
"There will be a period of adjustment, but we want to help and support businesses as much as we can.
"We will tell people about the legislation, what it says, and what businesses need to do, with things like signage requirements for premises and vehicles."
Smokers could get hooked on entrepreneur's shelters
Entrepreneurial Bill Harris is hoping the July 1 smoking ban will see business heat up as the smog clears. Mr Harris launched Smoke and Weather Shelters UK in 2005 after he read about health concerns around passive smoking and the possible future imposition of the ban.
Now it is set to be introduced, he is expecting his products to become even more popular.
He said: "In an ideal world, smokers would all be able to stop immediately. Sadly, this is not the case, so when the ban is introduced we expect employers will want to invest in our shelters to bring some order and tidiness to the inevitability of smokers congregating outside or around their premises."
After putting together his initial designs in 2005, he worked with the PPDU (Product and Process Development Unit) at the North-East Business and Innovation Centre (Bic) in Sunderland to develop them.
The company now offers a range of shelters - circular, rectangular, a half arch, a full arch, a triangle to sit comfortably in a corner and also a simple flat top version that can be fixed onto a wall.
He said: "We're aware that businesses will not want shelters to be imposing or ugly, therefore they have been designed to be fully customisable.
"We offer any size, shape or colour. They can fit into a tight corner or be purpose built to fit into the exterior of any building."
Bic operations director David Howell said: "In the context of current national developments, I think that Bill's product is extremely flexible and will be invaluable to businesses over the coming months.
"In the long term, however, the most useful direction will obviously be to help smokers quit altogether."
Where to find out more
Newcastle Primary Care Trust is holding information sessions for businesses on the smoking ban at the following times and locations:
Thursday, May 24, 6pm to 8pm, Newcastle Springfield Centre, Blakelaw.
Tuesday, May 29, 12.30pm to 2.30pm, The Cluny bar in Lime Street, Ouseburn.
Tuesday, June 5, 8am to 10am, Newcastle Civic Centre.
Anyone wishing to book a place should call Judith MacMorran on (0191) 220-5717 or Carol Loga on (0191) 277-7443.
Newcastle City Council is holding information sessions at the following times and places:
Wednesday, June 6, 11am to 1pm, Fawdon Community Centre, Fawdon Park Road, Fawdon.
Tuesday, June 12, 11am to 1pm, West End Resource Centre, Adelaide Terrace, Benwell.
Monday, June 18, 11am to 1pm, St Martin Centre, Roman Avenue, Walker.
Wednesday, June 27, 11am to 1pm, Lemington Community Centre, Tyne View, Lemington.
More details are available at www.newcastle.gov.uk/smokefreenewcastle
Be prepared for change, say traders in Scotland
With the smoking ban in England now just a few weeks away, we still don't really know how it will affect North-East business - and wider society. The best clues probably come from our neighbours in Scotland.
Graham Birse is deputy chief executive of the chamber of commerce in Edinburgh, where smoking has been banned since March last year.
He said there had been some teething troubles and was still some opposition to the ban, including a Smoking Rooms in Pubs Party standing at the recent Scottish Parliament elections, but it is generally accepted that businesses that prepared and invested have traded best.
He said: "The pattern has been that there has undoubtedly been a drop-off in trade at more conventional pubs or traditional boozers - those that have a predominantly male clientele who play a bit of pool or watch a football match on Sky.
"Habitual smokers might still come, but not as regularly. They might be preferring to stay at home and go to an off licence."
Mr Birse said the licensed trade, through its trade body the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA) in Glasgow, was still concerned about the ban and its effects, but the sight of a cluster of people huddled outside pub and restaurant doorways was now an accepted part of going out north of the border.
"Premises that offer food and those with a mixed clientele, including families and young people in particular, have not noticed a discernible drop-off in trade. And they are often getting a higher spend per head.
"Many have invested in awnings, outdoor heaters and garden furniture to accommodate smokers.
"It has also been found that sometimes late night shoppers will go for a drink where they would not have wanted to before.
"There is evidence that people are appreciating how agreeable the fresh air is now - and when you go south of the border or to mainland Europe, you suddenly appreciate the difference.
"We believe that in the long term, new customers will go to pubs who have not gone before because they were smoky.
"Our advice to those in the North-East is `be prepared' as it will undoubtedly bring change and bring adverse effects. You need to be ready for that."