The townscape here in South London has become bleak indeed. Four pubs within walking distance of my front door have closed, one is already razed and the others due for demolition. They have been scooped up by opportunistic Housing Associations to provide shabby slum bedsits for Nigerian village girls, and before very long will be on credit blacklists and 'no deliveries' zoned by all the local fast food outlets, with torn bags of putrescent waste littering the weed-strewn gardens.
Everywhere I go the depredations of the smoking ban are apparent; boarded up pubs, empty clubs, deserted and poisoned oases that once made walking the streets a pleasant adventure in search of the elusive perfect pub. The survivors are the chain multiples, the Weatherspoons, soulless and depressing haunts of emaciated benefit ghosts and devoid of even the slightest hint of individual character or ownership, heavy with the cloying stink of unwashed underclothes and hoover dust.
There are a few beacons to emerge from this gloom; pubs where the landlords have fought back, places where the newly-built smoker's shelter pays scant heed to the constructional requirements of the 2006 Health Act. In time these garden rooms, now complete with heating, insulation and a full set of doors and windows, will segue into the rest of the pub structure as fully fledged internal smoking bars. The gardens are now the property of smokers by moral right, and non-smokers venturing outside during the Summer months are conscious of the society they've excluded themselves from - a good humoured and sparky group, easy in eachother's company and with the shared bond of a now-internalised hatred of the Petty State.
I sense no great appetite amongst this government for strict enforcement of the ban, and no allowance should be made for doing so in the calculation of the government's grant to local councils. If they want to employ smoking inspectors rather than binmen, fine - they'll face the public at the ballot box.
The insidious lies from the morally righteous wing of the medical non-profession and lies and fake statistics from the fake charities continue to support the evidential con that gave rise to the ban, but they are proving to be the real losers from the Smoking Ban. Their reputation with the public is in shreds, their funding and bloated grasp on the public purse at risk. Frankly, people just don't believe them any more.
Three years on and the ban stands as most things that came from Labour - an expensive and divisive failure.