Row about impact smoking ban on pub closures

Last year 203 Belgian pubs closed. The figure from the National Institute of Statistics, NIS, is the lowest for pub closures in seventeen years and contrasts with figures released earlier by the Union of Independent Professionals, the NSZ.

The NSZ claims that 2,005 pubs had to close last year, a direct result of the smoking ban that is affecting customer numbers.

Commentators suggest that the NSZ figure doesn't take account of the number of new pubs that have opened and maintain that the smoking ban hasn't caused the bloodbath alleged by the NSZ.

The NIS figures are based on VAT returns. They show that over the past 17 years 13,000 pubs disappeared in Belgium. The closures are being linked to the fall in beer consumption. In 1990 the average Belgian drank 121 litres of beer a year. For 2011 the figure was only 79.5 litres. The statistics don't show any big change as a result of the smoking ban.

Horeca Vlaanderen, the organisation that represents the hospitality industry in northern Belgium, insists that the smoking ban has had a negative impact: 'It's not because the number of pubs hasn't fallen dramatically that there hasn't been an impact. The number of pubs going bankrupt has risen."

The association says that pub owners like brewers and beer wholesalers are now actively looking for new landlords. As a result there haven't been massive pub closures, but the rise in bankruptcies is a fact.