One year on, Irish ban on smoking in pubs is hailed a striking success

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The Irish ban on smoking in bars, which today reaches its first anniversary, is generally viewed as a striking success that has brought significant changes in social and cultural life.

The Irish ban on smoking in bars, which today reaches its first anniversary, is generally viewed as a striking success that has brought significant changes in social and cultural life.

Just one year on, the traditional image of the fug-filled Irish pub has been replaced by a lighter and airier atmosphere, with most of the Irish regarding it as a commendable step forward in health terms.

The ban applies to almost all public workplaces, but interest has centred on bars and restaurants. Making them smoke-free by law has brought about a new sub-culture of doorstep smokers who congregate outside pubs and restaurants having a smoke in the open air.

Bars have facilitated them in a variety of ways, often providing outside tables, gas heaters and ashtrays, and sometimes building on patios and lean-to shelters. This in turn has added a new dimension to social intercourse as the open-air smokers discuss the ban and other topics.

The authorities have exercised no flexibility in dealing with those who break the law. Last July two Galway city bar-owners threw down the gauntlet by openly flouting the ban: their feet barely touched the ground before they found themselves in court receiving hefty fines. Publicans are legally responsible for enforcing the ban on their own premises, and more than half a dozen have been prosecuted for allowing customers to light up.

As this suggests, there remain pockets of underground resistance of publicans who quietly allow smoking. The most recent figures, however, indicate that 94 per cent of pubs and 99 per cent of restaurants comply.

One of the striking features of the episode is that a move which was originally seen as controversial and politically risky has so quickly come to be accepted as the norm. The Irish entertainment lobby, which is traditionally strong within the governing Fianna Fail Party, fought a strong reargard action to have the initiative abandoned or watered down. Forecasts of a disastrous slump in pub trade have not been borne out, and nor have early threats of publicans mounting legal challenges, withholding taxes and even going to jail. Instead, the ban is regarded as irreversible and here to stay.

Some early research points to beneficial effects from the ban. Professor Luke Clancy, a Dublin-based respiratory consultant and anti-smoking campaigner, said: "I have people coming to me saying their lives have been transformed.

"I have people saying they could never go into a pub before, and now they can. It will encourage people to give up smoking and the ban will enable people not to start."

A recent trade union survey indicated that 90 per cent of Dublin bar workers approve of the ban, saying they have experienced little difficulty in implementing it, and a similar proportion believed it has had a positive impact on their health. A spokesman for Mandate, the union, said: "One year later, this research clearly shows that bar workers are enjoying working in healthy, clean and smoke-free environments, free from the dangers posed by other people's smoke."

The ban has been described as an outstanding success by Bertie Ahern, the Taoiseach, who said the initiative had had a hugely beneficial impact on the quality of life. He declared: "We can share a sense of national pride in a measure that will have significant health implications, not just for us here today, but for our children and generations to come.

"This ground-breaking measure has proven to be an outstanding success. The consistently high compliance rates and the widespread support for the initiative prove how successful and welcome the change has been."