Tue, Nov 23, 2004 - Page 16 News List

Ireland's smoking ban shows results

At the forefront of a global campaign against smoking, the country has turned tradition on its head by banning smoking in its pubs

AFP , Dublin

Ireland's smoking ban is being blamed for plummeting bar sales within a year of its introduction, but the government insists the smoke-free policy will deliver a big health dividend as more people quit.

Sales in the country's famous pubs are down 6.3 percent in the last year, according to new figures from the Central Statistics Office this week, as customers desert pubs with their new healthy smoke-free atmosphere.

But the decline of the pub -- for long the center of much of Irish social life -- may also be part of a fundamental shift in lifestyle as much caused by rising prices, a tougher policy on drunk driving and a shift to greater home entertaining.

The health minister in charge of the ban, Sean Power, is overseeing a new advertising campaign "Smoke-free is working -- let's keep it that way" to ensure complacency doesn't creep in and high compliance with the ban is maintained.

Introduced on March 29, the ban outlaws smoking in a range of public venues including pubs, restaurants and even company cars.

"We are getting compliance in the high 90s [percent]," Power said. "Compliance has worked out exceptionally well despite all the reservations, concerns and doubts before the ban took effect."

Power, a former publican who sold his business two years ago in his Kildare constituency on the outskirts of Dublin, said he was not surprised by the widespread observance of the ban.

"In general people are law-abiding. This was a measure that, by and large, the people were going to police themselves. Smokers who decided to obey the law weren't going to be too happy to see other people flouting it underneath their noses," he said.

"The ban has made people very, very conscious of the health dangers. A sizeable number of people are giving up smoking altogether. We have set up a special telephone smoking quit-line to help people and the figures from it are very encouraging," he said.

As a former pub owner, Power said he had been strongly lobbied by the trade.

"That was natural enough. They had invested their money in a pub. But we have to look at the greater good, the bigger picture, and that is what we did," Power said.

Power said the small numbers of pubs breaching the ban are "paying the price in court" and he expects to see less and less defiance.

This week, a publican in the border county of Cavan became the first to be hit for the maximum 3,000 euro (US$3,900) penalty and an additional 1,000 euros in costs.

Pat Barry of Diageo Ireland, which brews Ireland's favorite beer, Guinness, said sales of the "black stuff" were down 6 percent overall in the year to June but the volume of off-license sales for consumption at home had risen.

He believes there are bigger underlying social shifts in society affecting the drinks industry.

A combination of changes -- demographics, tougher drink-driving laws, the increase in working wives, higher mortgage repayments as house prices rise and more entertaining at home -- are all affecting lifestyles in recently prosperous Ireland.

"There is no doubt about it, the business is changing but the ban is also having quite a significant adverse impact. Some pubs have been affected worse than others, particularly the more traditional ones that don't serve food," Barry said.

"Up until now, people have been able to go outdoors and have their smoke but it is only from now on through the winter that we will begin to see if people are willing to do that in bad weather," he said.

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