Smoking ban threatens to call last orders on Orchard Road bars

Anyone caught lighting up outside designated smoking areas risks a composition fine of $200, or the maximum court fine of up to $1,000. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Cable Car 1890's Saloon, a bar near Orchard Road, is used to serving a full house by 7pm, even on Mondays.

But since the Orchard Road smoking ban kicked in on Jan 1, the strip of bars where Cable Car sits has been worryingly empty.

"There's almost a 40 per cent drop in business, it's crazy," the bar's manager Nick Pheh told The Straits Times.

His is not the only outlet feeling the squeeze. Acid Bar, Muddy Murphy's, Brewerkz and Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf have also reported similar dips in custom.

Anyone caught lighting up outside designated smoking areas (DSAs) risks a composition fine of $200, or the maximum court fine of up to $1,000.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) issued a daily average of 30 tickets for smoking outside of DSAs in the No Smoking Zone between April 1 and 15, which followed a three-month advisory period.

An employee of Muddy Murphy's, who declined to be named, said that he has seen almost a quarter of his customers disappear.

"Our customers have all moved to Clarke Quay, and people that used to come here almost every day are gone," he said. "Drinking and smoking go hand in hand."

The nearest DSA from Muddy Murphy's is about 100m away.

Some smokers, however, remain undeterred by the ban.

Ms Sarah Chia, 33, has frequently seen groups of smokers along the alley outside No. 5 Emerald Hill Cocktail Bar, a place she claims is an "unofficial smoking area".

"I do feel sorry for these smokers, especially those that work in Orchard," said the information technology specialist. "The ban criminalises them somewhat."

Despite the business slowdown, many pubs are not planning to raise the prices of their drinks.

"It's not a smart move," said Mr Pheh. "And it won't fix the problem, which is that our customers want to smoke."

Smoker Ashley Soo, 19, an information and communications student, agreed: "Finding a DSA is inconvenient. It's often secluded and difficult to find. I know a lot of people that aren't happy about the ban."

Referring to a DSA located about 100m from *Scape, she said: "I didn't even know this place existed."

Unless they can attract customers back, bars in Orchard may soon be in peril.

"There's no choice, we just have to deal with it," said Mr Pheh. He added that the only other option is to build an indoor smoking room, which would be "impractical".

According to the NEA, indoor smoking rooms should not take up more than 10 per cent of an outlet's area and must have separate ventilation and air-conditioning systems, which can cost up to $15,000.

Mr Pheh added: "We might even have to shut down, who knows."

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