Friday 17 November 2017

How the smoking ban transformed pubs, 10 years on

John Meagher counts the ways Irish people – and our pubs – have changed

Smoke-free zone: Former Health Minister Micheál Martin introduced the
legislation. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Smoke-free zone: Former Health Minister Micheál Martin introduced the legislation. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Introduced this day 10 years ago, the ban on smoking in the workplace has had a significant effect on our collective health. Some 29pc of us smoked in 2004. Today, that percentage is down to 22pc.

And Professor Luke Clancy, one of the country's leading respiratory consultants, estimates that more than 10,000 lives have been saved since the initiative came into effect in 2004. "It has changed the culture around smoking," he says.

It has also irrevocably altered the pub trade, in the following ways:

1 Many small, venerable pubs in rural and suburban Ireland were forced to shut their doors within a few years of the ban taking effect. More than 1,000 went to the wall, although only the most entrenched pro-smoking advocate could fully blame the new legislation: declining rural populations, aging demographics and the availability of cheap supermarket alcohol were among the nails driven into the coffin.

2 The pubs that have tended to do best over the past decade are the ones with attractive outdoor areas for customers to smoke in. In the early years after the ban, the "Deckland" phenomenon coined by David McWilliams moved from suburban homes into the pub trade. And patio heaters or braziers – not to be confused with brassieres – mushroomed.

3 Those pubs without the outdoor space to convert, or the financial muscle to do so, were compelled to install metal cigarette bins on the wall of their premises next to the front door.

4 Smirting – aka "smoking and flirting" – became an unexpected phenomenon as strangers were forced to abandon their friends inside the pub and indulge their nicotine habit in the new "smoking areas" or outside on the street. Invariably, there would be other banished souls puffing away and conversation – and romance – would often ensue.

5 The experience of returning home from a night out with smoke-saturated clothes in need of fumigation is a distant memory, but the absence of cigarette smoke has had some unwelcome olfactory side effects: beer-saturated carpets and sofas leave a hard-to-shift staleness and whiff.

6 Before 2004, only the most ambitious of pubs offered food that didn't constitute toasted ham and cheese sandwiches or packets of salt and vinegar crisps. Now, even the most modest establishment is proffering menus featuring words like "jus" and "organic".

7 If the smoking ban helped herald a new food revolution, it also helped usher in the era of craft beers and fine wines as pubs were forced to come up with ever more innovative ways to attract custom. Persisting with the same big names of draught and a few quarter bottles of Chilian plonk just didn't cut it anymore.

8 The ban was also the cue for open-mic nights, bingo and live rock music. A handful of pubs have even joined forces with barbers to lure the men-folk in – it gives a whole new meaning to the term half cut.

9 If you had told patrons of the thriving Irish pub trade of the '80s and '90s that within a couple of decades the industry would be taking out radio adverts espousing the pleasures of the pub they would have accused you of drinking too much. But that's exactly what's happened as vintners attempt to stymie the drop-off in custom.

10 Ireland's difficulty is England's opportunity is a neat reversal of the old Republican motto and the challenging landscape for the Irish pub has encouraged UK vintners to set up pubs here. One of their biggest chains, JD Wetherspoon, will soon be vying for custom with the venerable names of Doyles, Kennedys and O'Neills on the streets of Dublin. It remains to be seen if juke boxes and slot machines will be rolled out for Irish customers too.

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