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Last Updated: Friday, 26 March, 2004, 00:00 GMT
Smoking ban rattles Ireland's pubs
By Clare Matheson
BBC News Online business reporter in Dublin

Man smoking in Dublin pub
The traditional pint and a smoke will end on 29 March
In a few weeks the Irish hospitality business could be nursing a big hangover.

The Republic's government has, after many months of wrangling, finally decided on a date to stub out smoking in public places.

From 29 March culture vultures - and the stag and hen party visitors - will be taking a breath of fresh air in Dublin's Temple Bar area.

But the issue has sharply divided the hospitality industry.

Job losses

A blanket ban could lead to an 8% drop in pub sales - in turn costing the Exchequer 69m euros (£48.1m), according to figures from DCU Business School which was commissioned by the Vintners Federation of Ireland and the Licensed Vintners Association.

Football audiences in pubs and bars have dipped in recent years, and publicans have "very real fears" it will fall further after the ban.

Tax receipts on alcohol rose 2.8% in August-November, 2003 against the same period in 2002*
Number of bars and restaurants licensed to sell liquor rose 1.1% between October 2002 and October 2003*
Between March and June 2003, 10,000 bar and restaurant jobs created, surpassing growth for same period in 2002 - New York Labour Department figures
*Source: Roswell Park Cancer Institute of Buffalo
The vintners fear the ban could prompt up to 3,100 job losses as a result of falling sales.

Even customers do not want an outright ban, the vintners claim, citing a study that found 54% of pub customers would support a separate smoking area over a total ban.

The tobacco industry itself is also in favour of "voluntary action", of course.

Both Imperial Tobacco and British American Tobacco insist any measures should be down to a particular premises and the desires of their customers.

'Short term hit'

The health lobby has by and large dismissed industry concerns about business consequences following a ban.

They say stubbing out smoking will not only improve the health of customers and staff, it will also boost business.

Anti-smoking group Ash cite studies from New York and California, following blanket bans on public smoking there, which show the hospitality industry's profits have risen and lots of new jobs have been created.

Smokey bar interior
The ban may entice more "clean air" fans

One group that has welcomed the Irish ban is the Restaurant's Association which in a survey of 2,500 customers found that 70% - including smokers - backed the ban.

"We're in the pleasing business and we have to please our clients," said Henry O'Neill, an executive with the association.

"We don't believe the ban is going to impact on business."

Instead, the ban could attract more tourists and may prompt the industry to change tack and use a "clean air" advertising strategy, Mr O'Neill believed, though he accepted that there could be some negative effects in some areas.

"Obviously it's going to deter some business - for example functions in the border area, such as weddings and dances, may go over the border," he said.

Lifestyle change

Brewery group Diageo, which has seen its pub trade decline 8% as the off licence trade has improved 3% - was also cautiously optimistic.

"The jury is out," said spokeswoman Jean Doyle.

17% fall in waiter/waitress jobs, bartender numbers down 11% after the ban
33% of establishments have reported an overall decline in jobs since the ban
Two thirds of respondents say they now have fewer customers than before the ban
*SOURCE: International Communications Research

"The feeling is that in the short term there could be an impact, but it remains to be seen.

"Pubs may actually become more attractive because of the ban, research has shown certain people are put off by smoking - the atmosphere, the smell on their clothes."

Some pubs in the capital have started to prepare for the ban with wall-mounted ashtrays outside and heated outdoor areas for smokers.

Spending less

Yet some publicans are convinced the ban will be bad news for business.

Dublin cafe
Already cafes and bars are catering for smokers outside

Tom Moran, who owns Dublin's famous Red Cow Inn, believes the move will hit a trade suffering from changing lifestyles - and from the introduction of the euro.

In the past, customers would have 50 Irish punts (IR£) in their wallet for a night out. Now, they take 50 euros instead, equivalent to just IR£35 (£33.60).

This, coupled with fewer people going to the pub - as Diageo's lower profits indicate - makes Mr Moran conclude that people are now spending less time and money going out.

A waitress at Miso restaurant in Dublin's Temple Bar agrees.

"Before I come to work, I usually go to a coffee bar for a cigarette and a coffee," she said.

"When the ban comes in, I'll be staying home that bit longer which means the coffee shop will be losing about 22 euros a week from me."

A tax waiver has been introduced for firms able to show business has declined due to the ban
David Damon, owner of a bar in Cicero, won the first waiver after proving business had dropped 40%
He also proved he had a suitable smoking room, which is now in use
The county is now considering 24 similar applications
A shrinking younger population has also taken its toll on publicans' profits, with the generation who used to like a night out on the tiles now getting married, having children and settling down with big mortgages to pay off - which means less money to spend on a few drinks down at the local.

"Certainly, the smoking ban won't help the situation and I personally think this should be phased in over a number of years," insisted Mr Moran in an interview with RTE radio.

"I think it's hitting us in all of a slap, I don't think it's going to work."

In reality, Ireland will have to wait until the smoke clears to see what the impact of the ban has been.

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