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Last Updated: Monday, 30 April 2007, 06:34 GMT 07:34 UK
Ban comes in with puff of smoke
By Maryann Maguire
BBC Northern Ireland

Smoker
Smokers will be forced to use outside spaces

Pints, puffs and people mixed in a haze of smoke for a couple of hours on Sunday night in venues across Northern Ireland.

As the countdown to the smoking ban in public places kicked off, pub and club-goers partied their way into a smoke-free environment in public places.

A number of pubs and clubs even held smokers parties to mark the end of an era.

In the Errigle Inn in south Belfast, groups of young and old packed the lounges smelling of stale smoke, littering the ashtrays with cigarette butts.

Free lighters, cigarettes and cigars were handed out by a DJ.

"Smoking has always been part of our pub culture", said Stewart Parkhill.

"The ban is going to be good for everyone, especially social smokers like me who start getting cravings as soon as they stare at a pint."

Staff behind the bar also voiced their support for the ban.

"After a night behind the bar you feel as if you've smoked about there packets of cigarettes", said Gerry McVeigh, one of the barmen.

"It should have been brought in long ago."

Others speculated on the atmosphere that would accompany the ban.

Pint and a cigarette: A thing of the past in bars
Let's face it. Everyone knows it's the only way forward
Lorraine Butler

For Louise McCollum, who is 35, stepping outside for a lung full of smoke will have other advantages.

"In Dublin and places where there already is a ban it's very easy to meet new people by simply standing outside to have a puff," she said.

Builders were also busy over the weekend, putting finishing touches to outdoor extensions and patios that will allow customers to light up over a pint.

Some bar owners are still worried that the ban will hit their business.

Colin Regan, manager of the Garrick Bar in the centre of Belfast, says most publicans have accepted the idea of the ban and will try to make the most of it.

"We try and look to the positive factors, such as health and are going to try and make the most of it," he said.

"Lots of families are now going to be able to come in because parents won't be worried about their children inhaling smoke."

Lorraine Butler and Ian Williamson were amongst those capturing their last pub smoke on their mobile phones.

"It is a big moment", said Lorraine who is going to try and stop smoking this week.

"Let's face it. Everyone knows it's the only way forward".

From Monday anyone lighting up in an enclosed public place could face and on-the-spot fine of 50 and could be prosecuted.

Businesses meanwhile, which don't enforce the ban could also be hit with a penalty of up to 2,500.

One hundred and forty council officers have been trained to monitor the Northern Ireland ban.


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