Monday 22 December 2014

No Smoking! Ireland makes history with cigarette ban

Despite anger from publicans and legal threats, Ireland became the first country to introduce a smoking ban in the workplace, writes Anita Guidera

A woman smokes a cigaratte outside a County Louth bar after Ireland's smoking ban came into force. Photo: Reuters/Toby Melville.
A woman smokes a cigaratte outside a County Louth bar after Ireland's smoking ban came into force. Photo: Reuters/Toby Melville.
Irish Minister for Health and Children, Micheal Martin, has breakfast in Bewleys Cafe, Dublin, Monday March 29, 2004, on the first day of a ban on smoking in the workplace. PA Photo: Haydn West

HISTORY was made in March 2004 when Ireland became the first country in the world to introduce comprehensive legislation banning smoking in workplaces.

Months beforehand, fuming publicans claimed the ban would sound the death knell for the Irish pub, and threatened legal challenge to the impending legislation being spearheaded by Health and Children Minister Micheal Martin.

In Cork, they called for the minister to be sacked for "being a zealot".

But on March 29, the ban went ahead, and overnight, ashtrays vanished from over 10,000 pubs, as well as clubs and restaurants. Those caught smoking faced a hefty €3,000 fine.

Exempt locations included garda station detention areas, St Patrick's Institution for young offenders, nursing homes, hospices and psychiatric hospitals.

Anti-smoking group ASH hailed it as the health initiative of the century while the Irish Cigarette Machine Operators' Association described it as "their darkest day".

Diehard smokers vowed they would never return to bars to drink.

Two days into the ban, Fine Gael was embarrassed when its justice spokesperson, John Deasy, flouted the law by smoking in the Dail bar. He was promptly sacked from the front bench.

Around the country there was an explosion in beer gardens, heated patios, pagodas and carports as bar owners became creative in their interpretation of smoking areas.

Pint-wielding smokers swaying on footpaths outside bars became a new reality.

Law-compliant shelters were not the only new marketing opportunity to emerge. Lids to cover abandoned drinks and protect drinkers from date-rape drugs became a craze.

It wasn't long before the smoking ban had replaced speed dating as a new way to find romance.

"Smirting" -- a combination of smoking and flirting, a phenomenon that first evolved in New York City -- swept the country as smokers struck up conversations with fellow smoking strangers in the new smoking areas.

Despite early scepticism, it soon became obvious that the ban had been a huge success.

Within months, pub owners reported a 25pc drop in sales with rural pubs being worst hit, and called for the ban to be eased.

In July, a defiant Galway pub threw down the gauntlet by inviting customers to rebel and light up. The owners of Fibber Magee's pub on Eyre Square were fined €6,500 plus €3,000 in costs for allowing smoking on the premises.

This sparked a mini rebellion with other publicans putting ashtrays back on tables in the vain hope the government would retreat but it was short-lived, ending with a spate of prosecutions.

Irish Independent

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