Wednesday, June 27, 2007
By: James Helm BBC Dublin correspondent
Some Irish smokers favour the ban as a way to cut downBack in early 2004, when the introduction of a smoking ban in Ireland loomed, the prospect produced incredulity abroad.
Why, it was asked, would the country with the best-known "pub culture" in the world want to change a seemingly winning formula?
For Irish pub-goers, smokeless pubs are now the norm.
It has become a well-established routine for smokers in pubs the length and breadth of the land, from smart city bars to old-fashioned rural watering holes: if they fancy a quick cigarette, they have to put down their drink and head for the street outside or the beer garden at the back.
Some say that mingling outside is a great way to make new friends, with even non-smokers risking a gulp of tobacco smoke to join in.
Others joke that the only problem about smoke-free pubs is that you get a whiff of other, less-than-attractive, aromas instead.
But more than three years after the ban on smoking in the workplace, what have the effects been?
Speak to many pub owners, and they say the ban has cost them dearly in lost trade
The Irish government and various health experts and groups argue firmly that the ban has been a huge success, offering long-term health benefits to both workers and customers.
According to a recent survey, more than one in five Irish smokers has been smoking less since the ban came into force.
Compliance is said to have been very high. There have been remarkably few stories of pubs or individuals flouting the ban and enjoying a sneaky indoor smoke.
While some publicans in some bars may occasionally turn a blind eye, the threat of stiff fines has kept people in line.
At the same time, politicians and civil servants have beaten a path to Ireland to learn about how the ban was introduced and the impact it has had.
The traditional pint and smoke is long gone for the Irish
A couple of years ago the then Scottish First Minister, Jack McConnell, visited a pub in Temple Bar in Dublin to hear how the ban had gone, prior to Scotland introducing its own legislation.
Yet speak to many pub owners, and they say the ban has cost them dearly in lost trade. Some claim business has fallen by up to 30%, and that the drop in custom has caused job losses, with some publicans selling up.
Those most affected seem to be isolated country pubs and urban bars with no outside space where smokers can go.
For some parts of the pub trade the smoking ban, coupled with broader trends of people drinking more at home rather than in the pub, and of new random breath testing, has contributed to a decline.
Part of life
At the time of the ban's introduction, I was struck by how many of the smokers I interviewed were actually in favour of the ban, partly as it would help them cut down on their tobacco intake.
Others resented the idea of having to head outside for a smoke, whatever the weather, and still do, but it has simply become part of life.
So even in the most remote pubs in the west of Ireland, I have seen a similar routine being played out by customers who want to light up.
One theory is that Irish consumers are a flexible bunch - that they have taken to the introduction of the euro, to the arrival of a plastic bag tax, and the smoking ban in recent years, all with a communal shrug of the shoulders and a desire to adapt and get on with it.