Sat, Mar 27, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Ireland, Santa Monica ban smoking in public places

DPA , DUBLIN AND AP, SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA

Smoking in all enclosed workspaces, including bars, restaurants and pubs, is to be banned in Ireland from Monday under new legislation aimed at reducing the 7,000 deaths linked to cigarettes each year.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Santa Monica would become the third -- and largest -- California community to ban smoking on its beaches under an ordinance tentatively approved by the City Council.

The Irish ban, the first of its kind in the EU, has been harshly criticized by the hospitality industry, which fears a loss of business if smokers turn away from Ireland's famous pub culture in favor of the freedom to light up at home.

Some bar owners say they will refuse to implement the legislation, despite fines of up to US3,600 dollars for allowing smoking on their premises, while others fear a surge in public order offences as late-night customers react angrily to requests to stub out their cigarettes.

Health Minister Micheal Martin, the architect of the ban, says the majority of people in Ireland are behind it.

"This important tobacco-free initiative has the support of the majority of people in Ireland, smokers and non-smokers alike," he told reporters during a final press briefing in advance of the ban.

"This is a positive, progressive health and safety measure, which will bestow positive benefits to workers and to the general public alike," Martin added, reiterating that despite the focus on how the new measures will affect pubs, the initiative is aimed at all indoor workplaces.

Meanwhile, some of the finer details of the ban remain clouded in confusion. Operators of in-pub vending machines are set to offer non-tobacco herbal cigarettes, at present exempt from the ban, in an effort to halt a drastic decline in profits.

Martin has dismissed the "herbal" option out of hand, while publicans are again incensed that they may be obliged to check whether customers' cigarettes are of the herbal or non-herbal variety.

Pub owners have been advised to remove all ashtrays from their premises.

The ban also covers vehicles regarded as an extension of the workplace, such as delivery vans, long-distance trucks and company cars, although health officials admit that policing the ban in this area may well prove impossible.

Among the few workplaces deemed exempt from the legislation are prisons, psychiatric homes and hotel and guesthouse bedrooms.

Charged with policing the ban from midnight on Sunday are a team of 41 Environmental Health Officers dedicated to tobacco control in the hospitality industry, backed by up to 400 colleagues with wider duties.

Santa Monica councilors voted 4 to 2 in favor of the no-smoking ordinance late on Tuesday, but must approve it in a second vote in about two weeks before it can become a rule. The ban would prohibit smoking along a 21km stretch of beach, on the city's pier except in designated areas and at bus stops.

Mayor Richard Bloom said the ban would improve public health and reduce pollution.

"We know that cigarette butts not only litter our community, but also leach out toxins into the sand, into the water, and that affects marine life," he said.

Resident Rena Alvarez spoke against the ordinance, suggesting the City Council establish smoking zones in beach areas rather than a complete ban.

"I think that it's a really touchy subject, telling people who have a Constitutional right that they can't do what they want," she said.

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