When Micheál Martin introduced the smoking ban in 2004, it made Ireland the world leader in zero tolerance for smokers.
People claimed it wouldn’t work, that pubs would die on their feet and all sorts of dire consequences would ensue.
For the very committed smoker, it meant a lot more time spent outside. For pub and restaurant owners, it meant forking out for a new carpet (the old ones smelled terrible), and some kind of ‘outdoor’ area, rather too often a thinly disguised shed with a small opening in the roof allowing it to qualify as ‘outside’.
For those of us who don’t enjoy inhaling the output of someone else’s Benson & Hedges, it was a godsend. No longer peering through clouds of smoke to check out your intended in nightclubs… no more streaming eyes… no more coughing and spluttering and hoarse voice the next morning unless there was a good singsong involved.
Internationally, it caused a wave of copycat legislation and has often been hailed as one of our most successful and pioneering public health measures, ever.
I hate smoking. I grew up in a smoking household with a car like an ashtray. As a teenager I hated smoking with the kind of zeal that usually you only see in recently born again Christians or even more recently ‘recovering’ alcoholics.
And I have asthma, not serious asthma but enough that I can feel that tightness immediately when my lungs are exposed to something they don’t like. There are plenty more out there like me; Ireland has the fourth highest prevalence of asthma in the world, and one person a week dies from the condition.
As an adult I’ve become a little more forgiving about most things – life is complicated, I get that now – but smokers inflicting their habit on other people just gets my goat.
With most other habits, nobody outside of you and your immediate family suffers.
With smoking, though, it seems to be totally fine to inflict your choices on fellow restaurant patrons and random passersby.
If you want to clog up your lungs, turn your teeth yellow and your face wrinkled, cough and splutter, be my guest. But leave me out of it.
On the rare occasions I nip out for a sandwich during the working day, I run the gauntlet of a very busy bus stop on one side of the street, or, if I cross over, three pubs’ outdoor seating areas on the other.
All of them feature people standing on the footpath, puffing away as if their life depended on every last atom of nicotine that cigarette could yield. By the time I get back from the shop I feel like I am coated in dirt. My hair and clothes smell like an ashtray and I can feel the burn in my lungs. And that’s on the street with plenty of ‘fresh air’. It’s not in an enclosed beer garden or courtyard.
There is nothing nicer than eating outdoors on a sunny day. As we say all too often, it’d be the best country in the world if only we had the weather. Well, add to that, ‘if we didn’t have to breathe in cigarette smoke every time we do have the weather’.
Eating outdoors has become a kind of adventure sport of smoke avoidance for the non-smoker, as you try and seat yourself as far from those lighting up as possible.
James Reilly’s proposals to bin the cigs in outdoor food service areas are very welcome from where I’m standing. Yes, it makes life inconvenient for smokers. But wasn’t that the whole point of the ban in the first place?
Make it so inconvenient that people who can give up, will, and those who can’t will have to cut down.
I know most smokers are addicts, and for that I do have some sympathy. I have watched loved ones struggle to cut down or give up, and it isn’t easy. But by enabling their habit, it means inflicting the side effects on everyone else. And that isn’t fair.
From The Herald, 26.04.18