At the IEA blog, Dave Atherton has been looking at pub closures since 1980, and finds that the secular decline in pubs closures was 0.65% up until 2007. This data set includes three recessions.
In the UK recession of the early '80s, pubs closed at an unexceptional rate:
In the early '90s recession, the rate was somewhat higher with a notable peak in 1991:
In only three of the years did pub numbers grow (1995, 1998, 1999) and in the years leading up to the English and Welsh smoking ban, the rate of closures was remarkably pedestrian, hovering around the long-term average of 0.65%:
But since the smoking ban, closures have reached record levels, with each year far exceeding the previous high of 1991:
This period does, of course, coincide with another economic downturn, but it's worth noting that although this recession was the deepest since the 1930s, it was only slightly worse than that of the early 1990s. GDP fell in the early '90s by 5.6%; it fell in the last recession by 6%. Clearly the recession cannot explain all, or even most, of the decline in pub closures. Equally clear is the fact that factors combine to cause pubs to fail. Pubs that could have survived recession, or higher rents, may have been unable to deal with the added burden of the smoking ban (and vice versa).
Based on the secular decline, Atherton estimates that 3 in 4 closures since 2007 were primarily caused by the ban. He may be right. The 2008 figure, in particular, is so much higher than any previous year that an effect from the ban is obvious to anyone with eyes to see. It's also notable that previous recessions saw a brief peak, while this one has seen four continuous years of record closures.
Sometimes the raw data speaks for itself. But imagine for a moment that the figures for 2007-10 held steady at around 0.65%. Then imagine someone claiming that the smoking ban had closed many pubs and did so by arguing that the closure rate would have been much lower if the ban hadn't been enacted. Few people would take them seriously, no? It would be an unprovable assertion made by someone who plainly had an axe to grind.
And yet, that is effectively what Anna Gilmore did earlier this year when England's heart attack rate fell at exactly the rate one would have expected based on the secular decline. And so, against all the evidence, the popular narrative persists:
Heart attacks drop at the same rate as usual = the smoking ban slashed heart attacks.
Pubs close at the highest rate on record = the smoking ban has not led to pub closures.
Welcome to the parallel universe inhabited by anti-smoking groups.