Ireland's smoky pubs set to go cold turkey

Tobacco: Support for the smoking ban grows, even among those who enjoy a good pint with their cigarettes.

December 12, 2003|By Todd Richissin | Todd Richissin,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

DUBLIN, Ireland - At first blush, it might seem more likely that the Irish would give up their beer, their song - their mothers? - before they would give up what many of them consider a God-given right: to puff away on a cigarette when and where they want.

Especially after work, even more especially in the hallowed pub.

This is a country where people smoke on elevators. It is a place where cigarettes, as in much of Europe, are treated more like companions than the deadly sticks they are.

But come next year, Ireland will follow the lead of several U.S. cities - and a growing number of countries around the world - and forbid smoking in all workplaces, including pubs.

As Baltimore gears up for hearings on whether to ban smoking in public places, there may be some lessons to be learned from Ireland. Perhaps most surprising, the Irish - smokers and nonsmokers alike - are overwhelmingly in favor of snuffing out cigarettes. And not surprising in the least, putting the ban into action is proving complicated.

"You'd think they'd leave the pubs out of all this, but I'm glad they're not because it might help me give them up," said Ronin Moore, a 44-year-old banker who was enjoying a Guinness and a smoke after work in the Quays Bar in central Dublin. "They're bad for you, we know that. Plus, the wife's off them, so giving up might help my sex life."

Whether it be for love of wife or fear for life, many Irish favor the ban, which after several delays is scheduled to take effect in February or March. According to polls by The Irish Times newspaper, more than two-thirds of adults in the country support the ban, including more than half of smokers.

For nonsmokers, the argument for the ban is simply to be able to enjoy a pint without returning home smelling like an ashtray and having spent hours breathing deadly fumes.

And many smokers, far from resenting the Big Brother aspect of being told what to do in a place as sacred to Irish culture as the pub, are happy for the help in giving up cigarettes.

"I know it will help me cut down and hopefully stop altogether," said Evelyn Traynor, 25, a pharmacist who gave up cigarettes for two weeks when her employer closed its smoking room, forcing people into Dublin's notoriously uncomfortable weather when they wanted to light up. But she succumbed, as many smokers do.

"The pub did it to me," she said. "It's hard to have a pint and everyone's smoking and you're not. So you just light up."

In Baltimore, Councilwoman Helen L. Holton introduced a resolution last month asking for hearings on what a smoking ban in city restaurants and bars would mean for business.

Early indications are that restaurant and bar owners in the city would oppose such a ban, and that has also been true in Ireland.

But after two delays so Ireland's health ministry could clarify the new regulations - to make clear, for example, that places such as nursing homes or other institutions considered dwellings would be exempt - the smoking ban is moving full-steam ahead.

"We've always said this wasn't going to be easy," said Catriona Meeghan, a health ministry spokeswoman. "There are people who feel passionately about it, and there have been a lot of parts to it to consider and clarify."

Europe has long been known as a tolerant place for smokers, and the Middle East even more so. But like California, New York City and Maryland's Montgomery County, some unlikely areas around the world have decided that the public health risks of smoking are reason enough to face the wrath of smokers.

Romania, Italy, Greece and Pakistan are among the countries where indoor smoking has been banned or severely restricted over the past two years. Japan has banned smoking on the streets in Tokyo.

But not all in Ireland favor the ban. Pub owners have been fighting it every step of the way. They claim that it will destroy their businesses, but Ireland's recently created Office of Tobacco Control has produced figures showing that people who avoid restaurants and pubs would be more likely to frequent them if they were smoke-free.

Pub owners had threatened to withhold tax payments in protest of the ban, not only because of what it might do to their businesses but also because it holds them, as well as the smokers, responsible. Pub owners and customers face fines up to about $3,500 for each offense and jail terms up to three months.

"This legislation is ridiculous," Tadg O'Sullivan, chief executive of the Vintners' Federation of Ireland, said in an interview with The Irish Times. "It will be shown to be ridiculous."

"It's a disgrace," said Jay Kelly, a 28-year-old trash collector, puffing away in the Temple Bar after a day of work. "If a bunch of my friends can't sit around a table in the pub and have a ciggy, what's Ireland coming to?"

The European Union, which will expand from 15 nations to 25 next year, is requiring warning labels to grow to cover 30 percent of the back of each pack and 40 percent of the front. Already, labels warn that "SMOKING CAUSES IMPOTENCE" and "SMOKING CAUSES AGING OF THE SKIN."

"When I look at the facts, I have no arguments for being against the ban," said Soufiemme Fahdy, a 23-year-old telemarketer and pack-a-day smoker sitting with a "SMOKING KILLS" warning on the cigarettes in front of him. "How can I argue that smoking is good?"

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