Smoking ban in Ireland gives hope to UK campaign

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Calls for a British ban on smoking in public were renewed today as Ireland became the latest country to adopt legislation.

Calls for a British ban on smoking in public were renewed today as Ireland became the latest country to adopt legislation.

The new law has caused uproar in Ireland, with opponents claiming it will destroy the country's culture of craic and force pubs to close as smokers stay at home. The Irish government says the ban will save thousands of lives and improve the health of the nation.

Now doctors, anti-smoking campaigners and even some of the Government's senior health advisers are joining in a powerful lobby aimed at achieving similar legislation in England.

Until recently, the possibility of a ban in Britain seemed unrealistic, and charities, doctors and lobby groups had tended to work in isolation from each other. But with the Irish legislation coming days before the first anniversary of a ban in New York, the anti-smoking lobby is scenting victory.

Ian Willmore, of the campaign group Action on Smoking and Health, said: "The various groups and lobbies have not been co-ordinated in their approach to calling for a ban. That is all changing now. We are working much more closely and we can see the mood within government is also changing.

"Ministers are realising they are not going to hit their targets on health, or reduce NHS expenditure, unless they reduce the numbers of people who smoke. Advertising bans and warnings on packets do help, but only a ban on smoking will have a really drastic impact on what is Britain's number one public health problem."

Last month, Derek Wanless, the former head of NatWest bank who has been advising the Government on the future of the NHS, said an English ban would probably lead to a 4 per cent drop in the number of people who smoke. He said that to get a similar reduction through taxation, the price of a pack of cigarettes would have to double.

The Government's Chief Medical Officer, Professor Sir Liam Donaldson, has also backed a ban. But John Reid, the Secretary of State for Health, is against national legislation, arguing privately for a more "softly softly" approach.

Desperate to avoid accusations of "nanny stateism", the Government has proposed giving local authorities the power to implement bans. Liverpool, Brighton and Bristol are among the cities considering becoming smoke-free as soon as possible.

In Ireland, although some publicans support the ban, many dislike being made legally responsible for enforcing the law. Several dozen inspectors have been appointed, with landlords facing heavy fines if smoking is detected. People are expected to nip outside for a smoke, so some pubs are supplying external gas heaters, with canopies. One Co Dublin pub has even bought a double-decker bus for customers.

Jean King, director of tobacco control at Cancer Research UK, said: "The ban is a tremendous piece of legislation which has been long-awaited by the public and long-feared by the tobacco industry. We hope this will mark the start of a domino effect through Europe."

Ms King said 85 per cent of people in the UK support restrictions on smoking in public.

Norway and the Netherlands are to ban smoking in public this year, and the Scottish Executive is considering similar legislation. The European Commissioner's head of health, David Byrne, has said an EU-wide directive banning smoking in public is "simply a matter of time".

But the hospitality industry is also actively opposed to legislation, hotels, bars and restaurants issuing dire warnings about job losses and pub closures if England follows Ireland's example.

David Rabin, president of the New York Nightlife Association, said: "Bartenders and owners are suffering significant economic losses; some estimates are as high as a 30 per cent loss in takings. The ban is disrupting the entire economic, social and entrepreneurial life of New York."