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Last Updated: Saturday, 27 March, 2004, 08:03 GMT
Ireland bets on smoke-free gains
By Russell Padmore
BBC World Service business reporter in Howth

Smoker in Dublin pub
Irish pubs will soon show smokers the door
Ireland has just become the first country in Europe to declare the workplace a smoke-free zone.

The ban, which comes into force on Monday, means that smokers are no longer able to indulge their habit in restaurants, hotels (with the exception of their bedrooms) or even the country's renowned pubs.

Unsurprisingly, the decision - aimed at protecting the health of hospitality industry workers - has provoked much debate.

The government has already been forced to postpone the measure once in order to reconsider problematic issues such as smoking in prisons, or psychiatric hospitals.

The pub - traditionally a far from smoke-free environment - is likely to become the next battleground, with landlords facing stiff fines if they fail to prevent their customers from lighting up.

Smoking and drinking

James Scott Lennon, who owns the Abbey Tavern in Howth, a seaside town north of Dublin, does not expect enforcing the ban to pose any major problems.

This ban could actually make a huge saving to the economy
Austin Hughes, IIB Bank
"I think it's going to be self-policing," he told the BBC's World Business Report.

"If someone refuses to put their cigarette out, you mention it to the person behind the counter who calls either the manager or if necessary the police.

"But I don't think it's going to come down to that. People are just going to realise you can't smoke."

One Irishman who is already feeling the effects of the new regime is businessman Michael Harrington.

Thirty-five years ago, he founded a company which manufactures cigarette machines, and the ban has dealt his business a serious blow.

"It came as a big shock. As soon as it was announced, the business collapsed within days," he says.

"Cigarette machines are about 30% of our turnover, and basically that business is gone."

Pros and cons

It is estimated that fewer than one in three Irish people are smokers, and the tobacco industry is no longer a major employer.

People are just going to get drunk and start smoking
Pub goer
But as in most European countries, tobacco duties make a significant contribution to government revenues.

There has been speculation that by curbing tobacco consumption, the ban could lead to a budgetary squeeze in years to come.

However, Austin Hughes, chief economist with IIB Bank, believes the move will deliver economic benefits in the long run.

"People looking forward see an explosion in healthcare costs right across the globe," he says.

"To the extent that reduced tobacco consumption will make a meaningful difference to healthcare costs in Ireland over the next 30 years, then this ban could actually make a huge saving to the economy."

Those savings include those that arise from avoiding legal claims for compensation brought by pub workers whose health is harmed by tobacco smoke.

But some pub goers are still sceptical that the ban will work, speculating that it may bring out a rebellious streak in many Irish drinkers.

"It might work in clubs where there are bouncers, but not in local pubs. People are just going to get drunk and start smoking," says one.

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