Celebrating the Success of a Smoking Ban
DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland's pioneering smoking ban has won widespread support, figures published on Tuesday showed, despite fears the law is putting pubs out of business.
The ban on smoking in restaurants, pubs and workplaces, introduced exactly a year ago, had been expected to meet widespread resistance in a country where the pub culture of a drink and a smoke were considered part of its life blood.
Instead, the sight of smokers huddled outside pub doors is now as familiar as a pint of Guinness.
"The general support for this health initiative is extremely high and has increased further since its introduction, even among smokers -- and exceeds all expectations," said anti-smoking lobby group ASH.
Figures from an independent survey conducted earlier this month for the government's Office of Tobacco Control show 93 percent of people think the ban is a good idea.
Similar laws had been introduced before in cities and states like New York and California, but Ireland was the first country to introduce a nationwide ban. A number of other countries, including Malta, Norway and Italy, have since followed suit.
"As expected, the scaremongering predictions, such as the projected loss of 60,000 jobs, have not materialized. Neither have vast numbers of public houses closed -- in fact the selling price of these establishments continues to increase," said Professor Luke Clancy, chairman of ASH's Irish branch.
COSTS DRIVE DRINKERS HOME
But pub groups insist some watering holes have been forced to close because of the ban -- mainly in rural areas.
"In County Clare alone, 26 pubs have closed in the last 12 months," said Seamus O'Donoghue, president of the Vintners' Federation of Ireland.
He said many rural publicans were now choosing not to open until the evening, cutting off a vital social link for customers living in isolated areas.
The federation wants a compromise in the law so smokers and non-smokers can use bars together. In some countries, smoking is allowed in specially enclosed areas within pubs and restaurants.
But locals say the decline of the Irish pub has more to do with high prices and lifestyle changes than the smoking ban.
Alcoholic drinks cost more in Ireland than in any other EU country -- some 82 percent above the eurozone average -- according to figures from the EU statistics office Eurostat.
"One year on, there's no doubt that sales have been hit by the ban, but prices are the bigger issue," said Bettina MacCarvill, associate director at market research group Millard Brown IMS.
"Many people are opting to spend more on their leisure time at home or in the homes of friends and family, rather than pricey nights out in bars and restaurants."
But for those smokers who still venture out for a taste of Ireland's famed "craic" (fun), the ban can have some benefits.
Micheal Martin, the health minister who introduced the law, said smokers gathered outside pubs and clubs were striking up conversations with new people -- sometimes sparking romance.