James Leavey's Corner
Saints And Sinners – Ireland's Smoking Ban

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Saints andsinners – Ireland's smoking ban

by James Leavey, editor, The FOREST Guide to Smoking in London
and The FOREST Guide to Smoking in Scotland

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James Leavey

Whether it's forthe craic, the booze or the music, the pub has long been the focal point ofIreland's social life  But then the Irish love good company and prefer todrink in public rather than at home.  Which is probably why there are morethan 11,000 drinking establishments in Ireland – and that's not counting thethousands in Northern Ireland.

Unfortunately,while you can still enjoy a quiet smoke in most of the latter Britishprovince's pubs and bars, you've now as much chance of igniting yourfavourite cigar in Ireland as seeing the Banshee shagging a leprechaun.

The saddest dayin the Irish smoker's history was 29 March 2004, when Ireland became thefirst country in the world to introduce a smoking ban.

The then Ministerfor Health, Micheal Martin, introduced this ban with the hope of protectingIrish people from the effects of passive smoking. Despite widespreadcriticism of what many considered to be a Draconian law introduced byIreland's 'Nanny State',  a subsequent Irish poll by an independentconsultant, Amarach, found that 89 per cent of respondents believed that theban was a great success, with compliance standing at 97 per cent, to date. 

Well, yes, youwouldn't dream of lighting up in a country which was prepared to impose aEuro 3,000 fine or give you three months in jail for daring to enjoy apublic smoke.

According toIreland's National Smokers Quitline, over 7000 people have ceased to smoke,with 10,000 stating that they have reduced their consumption. In June 2004,Ireland's Department of Health stated that 24 per cent of the population nowregarded themselves as smokers compared to 27 per cent in 2002.

It's not exactlya  huge drop in numbers, but where on earth do the Irish now smoke"

I rolled up inDublin a month after the introduction of Ireland's smoking ban.  Now, onceupon a time the best place to meet Dubliners – especially a smoker – was thepub for there are more than 700 of them and it's often said that you cannotwalk across the city without passing one.

“Don't pass it,go in,” is the usual recommendation of a Dubliner.

Fine, providedyou're not a beleagured smoker, for the only indoor public places in Dublin,indeed in the whole of Ireland, where you can now enjoy lit tobacco arehotel, guesthouse and B 'n' B bedrooms – provided the owners have designatedsmoker-friendly rooms for their poor guests. 

If you go madfrom the want of a smoke, the good news is that you can light up inIreland's psychiatric hospitals.  If the idea of not smoking gets youpraying, you'll also be OK in Ireland's religious order homes – but pleasedon't use that receptacle for the Holy Water as an ashtray.  And if you getseriously fed up with the whole thing and decide to take a swing at the nextsmug anti-smoker who starts giving you a lecture on the evils of nicotine,you're still allowed to smoke in every Irish prison (but not in a GardaStation detention area) where tobacco known as 'snout' is still theunofficial currency.

Which is why thecontraceptive express that used to run from Belfast to Dublin bearingpackets of those little “something for the weekend” essential items has nowbeen replaced by trains full of hardened smokers, going the other way.  ButI have to warn you that Northern Ireland is also looking at a smoking ban,so maybe all those smokers in Ireland should get on a boat and head foranywhere that will welcome them with an open ashtray.

The terriblething is that when I last looked, all the pubs I went into in Dublin werepacked out with non-smokers.  Apparently the thing to look out for is a pubwith a deep doorway, in which you can crouch while having a crafty smoke. Not that you'd want to enjoy a fine cigar in such places, and God knowsthere are no Havanas, as far as I know, in Ireland's prison cells or looneybins.

One man, sittingbeside me in a Dublin pub, told me he had attended an illegal shebeensomewhere in the wilds of Killarney the previous weekend, and people hadstill gone outside in the early hours of the morning for a smoke.

“What's the pointof that"” I told him.  “You could just as easily get arrested for theillegal drinking.”

Now that Dublinis a cosmopolitan city, many of the pubs have been putting tables and chairsoutside, for the smokers.  The trouble is, what with Ireland's reputationfor rain – days at a time – you'd need chairs with sawn-off legs so that youcould sit under the tables to stop the rain from putting your cigar out.

“As it is now thefirst anniversary of the introduction of the ban, more will emerge fromvested interests showing either that the ban is good for business, good forhealth or as I feel, that it is bad for business and bad for employment,”said David McGrane, director of Fox's fine cigar emporium in Grafton Street,Dublin.

“With the help ofadvertising, the medical profession and not least the tobacco industry, whoin Ireland refused to attend a Dil committee when the ban was being framed,the government has successfully sold the message that smoking is bad andanti-social. If we wish to continue to smoke, we must do so in a place wherethe least damage can be done.”

In Ireland, thereare now huge fines for breaches of the no-smoking law. The person in chargeof public premises who permits someone to smoke on his or her premises cannow be fined up to €3,000 and those premises can be closed down for threemonths. There are similar fines for the sale of tobacco products to anyoneunder 18.

Meanwhile,figures from Ireland's Revenue Commissioners show that the sale ofcigarettes in Ireland fell by 16 per cent in the first six months of 2004.

At present, themain cigarette companies in Ireland report falls of 8% to 10% in cigarettesales, which apparently does not take into account duty and manufacturingincreases which have been applied since the ban was introduced

A report carriedout by UK consultancy, Centre Economic and Business Research, found thatvolume sales in bars, night-clubs and public houses fell in Ireland by 10.7%in the past seven months. It also found that employment had fallen by 5.9%in the first five months since the ban was introduced.

According toMcGrane, sales of premium and machine-made cigars such as Hamlet, HalfCoronas and Villiger Export are way down, with only Cafe Crme, which can besmoked in a few minutes,  holding up.  What's the point of buying a decentgood sized cigar if you can't enjoy it over a drink.

As if that wasn'tbad enough, under Ireland's Place of Employment Act, if you have ahousekeeper, your home becomes her place of employment and is subject to theTobacco Bill. If you call a repairman to fix your television or washingmachine, he can refuse to enter your house if you are smoking, but stillcharge you for the call.

Britain's cigarretailers had better watch out, for you're next.


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