Ireland to Ban Smoking in Workplace (That Means Pubs, Too)
By Brian Lavery, New York Times
DUBLIN, Jan. 30 — Ireland will ban smoking in all workplaces, including pubs and restaurants, starting in 2004, Health Minister Micheal Martin said today, angering tobacco manufacturers and publicans who called the ban unenforceable and an infringement of personal liberties.
The announcement coincided with the Irish Office of Tobacco Control's publication of a study on the effects of secondhand smoke, which found that people who work in smoky environments are up to 30 percent more likely to get heart disease, among other illnesses.
"The bottom line is you don't have to be a smoker to get cancer from cigarette smoking," Mr. Martin said in a statement, adding, "It is only fair that we have a level playing field in this important area of public health and that the health of workers is protected on an equitable basis for all."
The ban mirrors increasing health consciousness in Irish society. Public opinion has swung in recent years against the country's notorious consumption of alcohol, and Dublin authorities recently began enforcing a 10-year-old ban on smoking on city buses. Mr. Martin asserted today that almost 90 percent of Irish people favor extending bans on environmental tobacco smoke.
Still, 31 percent of the general population smoke, and 40 percent of women 18 to 34. Seven thousand deaths a year are ascribed to tobacco-related illnesses in Ireland.
Since taking office, Mr. Martin has campaigned aggressively for a "tobacco-free society," banning tobacco advertisements, raising the age limit for buying cigarettes and banning packs of 10 cigarettes, which were frequently bought by children and people just beginning to smoke.
The ban on tobacco advertising was struck down earlier this week in the courts, which were persuaded by the Irish tobacco companies' argument that the government had not informed the necessary European Union authorities of the move. Mr. Martin promptly pledged to rewrite the legislation and push it through Parliament again.
He is also taking extra precautions on the smoking ban. It is not to take effect until next year so that the Irish public, and publicans, can get used to the idea, and European Union officials can examine the regulations, a Health Department spokeswoman said.
The new regulations will prohibit smoking in train compartments and will outlaw designated "smoking rooms" in offices. But the change will be felt most strongly in Ireland's 10,000 bars, where generations have found cigarettes the perfect accompaniment to their pints of stout ale.
"It can totally change the character of the Irish pub," said Frank Fell, chief executive of the Licensed Vintners' Association, which represents 800 pub owners in the Dublin area.
"There's no statistical analysis to prove that bar staff live shorter lives than anyone else," he said.
Over a pint in the Boar's Head pub, Martin Lambe, 28, said he gave up smoking in 2001 after 10 years because two friends died of smoking-related cancer, one at 27 and the other at 40. "I think it should be stopped," he said, "but it won't be enforced here."
But regardless of how the ban will be enforced, "it's a very good day for public health, and it's a very good day for politics," said Dr. Fenton Howell, chairman of Action on Smoking and Health, a nonprofit advocacy group, who cited Mr. Martin's quick enactment of the ban.
"He hasn't succumbed to vested interests on this," Dr. Howell said.