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Ten years since we led the way and stubbed out smoking in workplace


 Smoking ban in workplace is ten years old

Smoking ban in workplace is ten years old

Smoking ban in workplace is ten years old

WE led the world. Not often we can say that, but this week we can.

The ban on smoking in the workplace, the tenth anniversary of which falls this Saturday, was copied by countless nations in the developed world. We pioneered this bit of health history.

Because the ban turned out to be such a success, most people have forgotten the doubt with which it was surrounded, back then, and the fact that very few believed it would work.

It could not be policed, was one view. I mean, if someone lit up in the office, who was going to be the killjoy who asked them to stub it out?

And if they didn't, was the non-smoker going to ring the Garda Siochana to report them? Were bartenders going to arrive in front of valued customers and tell them to stop smoking?

The doubts were fanned, so to speak, by the tobacco industry and by everybody else who stood to profit from people continuing their lethal addiction.


The tobacco industry did a clever thing. They positioned the issue as one of human rights: if someone wants to ruin their lungs, their looks, their circulation and their very survival by smoking, then they have a perfect God-given right to do so.

Smokers picked up and repeated this argument, understandably, because they felt harassed.

They might have persuaded people, were it not for the trade unions, who came into the battle saying, in effect: "You are quite entitled to kill yourself slowly by smoking. But what you're not entitled to do is kill any of our members, and if you smoke in a pub or a shop or an office, they'll be forced to inhale your second-hand smoke and the research proves it could kill them, so you know what? You're welcome to keep smoking. Just not in the workplace."

It was tough on pubs. Drinkers talked wonderingly about how pleasant it was to have a night out in a venue where the air was clear.

But not enough of them liked the change, and so the smoking ban, together with tougher implementation of drink-driving laws, effectively closed down many pubs and made it hard for the surviving ones to make a living. That was sad. The ban was tough, too, on smokers. They found themselves with the rain teeming down on them as they stood, smoking, on fire escapes and porches.

They felt disenfranchised and hounded, and because tobacco is at least as difficult an addiction to beat as heroin, it was not easy for them. But, before that first year was out, we had a proven success on our hands. The number of people being admitted to hospital with respiratory problems dropped after the ban.


That fed through to even more impressive statistics. More than 3,500 people are alive today, thanks to the smoking ban, who would have died a bad, bad death if it hadn't happened.

It was and remains the single most important action taken by the leader of Fianna Fail, Micheal Martin. If he never did anything else on the political front worth a damn, he could still remember, with pride, that he saved many lives.

It was due to courage and persistence.

Government, trade unions, Ash Ireland and the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland helped achieve what had seemed impossible.

They improved the quality of life in Ireland at one fell swoop and proved to the world that it could be done.

This is a rare occasion when self-congratulations are in order. Take a deep, clean breath – happy anniversary.