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Last Updated: Thursday, 31 March, 2005, 05:30 GMT 06:30 UK
A tobacco ban tale of two cities
By Stephanie Todd
BBC News website

Smoking in Ireland
Scenes like these are now a thing of the past in the Republic of Ireland
Two weekends, two cities, but one difference - a ban on smoking in public places.

While the debate rages in Scotland over the planned introduction of a smoking ban next year, the Republic of Ireland has reached a one-year smoke-free milestone.

The effects of which I witnessed first-hand after deciding to forego a usual weekend spent in the bars and clubs of Glasgow for a visit to Dublin to catch up with friends.

The trip was only my second visit to the Emerald Isle following a few days spent enjoying the craic in Galway in 2003.

It was my first venture across the Irish Sea since the controversial smoking restrictions were put in place.

Being a non-smoker, I was curiously looking forward to seeing how different things would be.

Would the bars be quieter with less of an atmosphere? Would the air be noticeably different? And how was my friend Karen, an enthusiastic consumer of the Silk Cut brand, coping after moving to Ireland shortly after the ban was put in place?

'Thick with smoke'

Truth be told, I didn't even notice the change at first. And no, my lack of observation wasn't down to over-consumption of Guinness, as one colleague cheekily suggested.

First port of call after a short flight from the west of Scotland to the east of Ireland was Keogh's Bar, a famous old watering-hole off Grafton Street in the centre of Dublin.

It was busy and bustling with the just-finished-work-and-it's-Friday crowd.

Caught up in catching up, the fact it was cigarette-free completely passed me by until Karen stood up.

"Your round?" I enquired innocently? "Nah," she replied. "I'm off outside," picking up her handbag.

My blank expression resulted in eye-rolling exasperation and an additional "... for a cig" comment was thrown at me as she disappeared out the door.

Guinness Brewery in Dublin
Some drinkers say the smoking ban makes drinks taste different
Sitting there on my own, I started to properly take in the scene around me.

Workers chewing the fat over a pint, couples sitting side-by-side and friends laughing by the bar.

It could have been any bar in any city, but for one difference - no-one was smoking.

The air used to be thick with smoke, so the regulars told me - some with wistful affection - and they had mixed views on whether the ban was a good idea.

"I miss being able to smoke in a pub," said one. "The Guinness tastes different without having a cigarette to go with it."

But his friend piped up: "It's actually a good way to meet people. I chatted up my current girlfriend while we were both standing outside a pub having a cigarette."

Fresh air

It wasn't until the dreaded Morning After that I noticed the biggest difference.

My clothes from the night before didn't stink of stale tobacco and my hair was surprisingly smoke-free.

My throat certainly didn't feel as scratchy as it has done after a night out in Glasgow and I swear my head wasn't as "fuzzy" either.

Glasgow's Buchanan Street
Glasgow's patrons will soon face smoking restrictions
Sampling the smoking ban in Dublin certainly set me thinking.

On one hand it seems strange that government legislation will soon affect a night out with friends in a new way, but maybe the trumpeted health benefits really will make it all worthwhile.

Back in Glasgow a week later and out on the town celebrating a friend's birthday, the smokey atmosphere in a city bar was as noticeable as the fresh atmosphere in Dublin had been unnoticeable.

And tobacco-tainted clothes and hair the morning after followed the traditional sore throat and itchy eyes from the night before.

My friends at home are still aghast at the thought of having to pop outside to the street for a puff between drinks, but after my Irish break I find myself open-minded about Scotland's version of the ban being introduced in 2006.

And Dublin-based Karen is philosophical after 12 months living as a smoker in a "no-smoking city".

"It's like the Euro," she says. "You just get used to it."


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