Irish pubs are disappearing in a cloud of smoke -- or the lack of it, a new report has claimed.
'Forest Eireann' (Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco), a group representing beleaguered smokers, has claimed that the smoking ban has been the main cause of the downfall of Irish pubs.
Forest spokesperson John Mallon has said that "smokers have no rallying place at all and this group is a small start towards changing that".
"A lot of publicans have told me they have been forced to close up due to business being so bad and that the smoking ban was a huge cause of this.
"Many have said that they didn't declare how bad things were in previous years as they didn't want to de-value their business further," he said.
The third-party firm, CR Consulting, which conducted the report using data from the Revenue Commissioners, found that despite other contributing factors, the demise of Irish pubs had a close statistical relationship to the introduction of the smoking ban in 2004.
The research, which was paid for by the 'Save Our Pubs & Clubs' campaign in Britain, reports an 11 per cent decline in the four years that followed the Irish ban.
Since then more than 1,000 Irish pubs have closed their doors -- including some prominent rural bars.
"I don't believe the smoking ban has a direct relationship to the downturn of business but it has changed people's attitudes to drinking.
"I'm not saying Irish people don't drink as much but they certainly drink differently," said publican Alan Grainger whose family has run Grainger's pub on Dublin's Talbot Street for 50 years.
"It was never a case years ago that people would drink in their homes, bar the odd brandy or hot whiskey for medicinal purposes," he said.
"There's a multitude of reasons why more and more people are staying at home, such as the drink-driving laws, the effects of the recession, competitive pricing in supermarkets as well as the smoking ban. I wouldn't think there is more weight on one issue more than another."
"It hasn't affected me personally as much as it would pubs in the suburbs and in the countryside, where many have taken car-park areas and turned them into smoking areas to keep the trade going.
"I see many places are giving blankets and installing gas heaters -- which was unheard of before the ban."
Speaking of the introduction of the blanket ban in 2004, he said: "Micheal Martin was very gung-ho about the whole thing. He wanted to make a name for himself as the man who stopped smoking in Ireland.
"There was an indication expressed to the Licensed Vintners Association and to publicans at the time that there would be some leeway given, such as areas inside the pubs that could be 'smoking'. That didn't materialise so what resulted was no choice. It was a case of the Government's way or no way."
Forest wants the Government to relax the smoking regulations so "people can light up in a warm and comfortable environment".
According to Mr Mallon, pubs "need smokers. That's a fact that ministers cannot and must not ignore any longer".
He has recently come out in support of the Taoiseach's social ways with regards to his Croke Park smoke break.
" Brian Cowen is just one of a million smokers in Ireland. What happened proves that we need to cater for smokers in public places," he said.