Ireland leads the way for Europe in banning smoking in the workplace

BMJ 2003; 327 doi: (Published 04 September 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;327:522
  1. Muiris Houston
  1. Galway

    The planned ban on smoking in the workplace from next year has brought protests from Irish pubs and restaurants

    Who would have thought that Ireland—known for its myriad of pubs and hostelries—would become the first country in Europe to introduce a total ban on smoking in places of entertainment? But from 1 January next year a workplace ban on smoking will include all elements of the hospitality industry, from pubs and bars to restaurants, hotels, and even bed and breakfasts.

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    Irish pubs, famed for their stout, will soon become smoke-free zones


    An estimated 7000 people die each year in Ireland from smoking related diseases. A recent national health and lifestyle survey showed a 4% decline in the number of people smoking, from 31% of the population in 1998 to 27% in 2002. The percentage of smokers fell in all age groups and social classes. However, the level of passive exposure to smoke in pubs and clubs remains high, affecting 47% of men and 32% of women.

    The forthcoming ban continues Ireland's proactive record on tobacco control issues and is part of legislation aimed at providing comprehensive regulation and control of the sale, marketing, and distribution of tobacco products. It reflects about five years' work by non-governmental organisations, such as the Irish Cancer Society, as well as the Department of Health and Children and a parliamentary committee on health.

    The most senior academic figures in Irish medicine and allied professions have issued a statement supporting the government's plans.

    “The entire community of health professionals is speaking with one voice about the enormous harm caused by the tobacco epidemic and expressing its full support for decisive and specific interventions that are known to be effective,” said Dr Michael Boland, director of postgraduate studies at the Irish College of General Practitioners.

    The statement's signatories, who include deans of medicine, dentistry, and nursing faculties, as well as the Colleges of Physicians, Surgeons, and General Practitioners, welcome recognition by the World Health Organization that environmental tobacco smoke is a cause of cancer.

    The scientific basis for the government's workplace ban is presented in a 2002 report, The Health Effects of Environmental Tobacco Smoke in the Workplace, commissioned by the Office for Tobacco Control and the Health and Safety Authority.

    Specifically, the report dismisses ventilation as a solution to the problem of environmental tobacco smoke, saying that even new technologies would still mean exposure levels of 1500 to 2500 times the acceptable level of risk for hazardous air pollutants.

    “Smoking bans remain the only viable control measure to ensure that workers and patrons of bars, night clubs, and restaurants are protected from exposure to the toxic by-products from tobacco consumption,” it states.

    Not surprisingly, the conclusions of the 2002 report and the proposal to ban smoking in pubs and hotels have been rejected by businesses. They formed the Irish Hospitality Industry Alliance, which claims to have 3500 members, and have lobbied MPs and found support in some sections of the media.

    The move comes as smoking in the workplace becomes an issue elsewhere in Europe. In Britain, for example, the GMB union plans to seek better working conditions for people in pubs and clubs, after the case of Michael Dunn, who was recently awarded £50 000 ($79 000; €72 000) in an out of court settlement for asthma that developed as a result, he said, of working in a smoky atmosphere. The union says there will be many similar legal cases in the future.

    Stan Glantz, professor of medicine at the University of California and a leading anti-smoking campaigner, dismissed claims by the alliance that 67 000 jobs would be lost as a result of the planned ban.

    “Claims of catastrophe are always made by hospitality alliance groups, but when the situation is examined after the ban this never happens in effect,” he said. He warned that the tobacco industry sees Ireland's move to be the first European state to institute a ban as the “beachhead for Europe.”

    “They will spend millions of dollars to prevent the floodgates of tobacco prevention opening to this part of the world,” he said.

    Professor Glantz, a veteran of anti-tobacco campaigns in California and New York, said similar workplace bans on smoking in those places have had either no effect or a positive effect on the hospitality industry.

    “Whether you measure tax revenue, employment statistics, or consumpion figures, all studies are uniform in the message that a smoke-free environment does not damage the business of restaurants or pubs,” he said

    After the introduction of similar anti-smoking legislation in California in 1995, polls showed that 85% of people approved. According to Professor Glantz, the evidence from the United States is that the tobacco industry gives large amounts of money to hospitality alliances to help mount campaigns against anti-smoking legislation. In a recent comment to the Irish Times a spokesman for the Irish Hospitality Industry Alliance specifically denied receiving funding from the tobacco industry.

    The policing of the ban has emerged as a crucial issue. The minister for health, Michael Martin, has stated that the police will not be directly involved in enforcing the legislation. Environmental health officers who already monitor food safety in restaurants and pubs are expected to be given a key role in implementing the ban. The maximum fine for breaking the law will be €1900 (£1320; $2090).

    Asked whether he felt the ban would actually take effect in pubs, Michael Boland, chairman of the Office for Tobacco Control, predicted it would. “I say this because of the overnight adoption of two similar measures in Ireland in the past,” he said, referring to the introduction of smokeless fuels in urban areas in the 1990s and the more recent success in reducing the use of plastic bags to protect the environment.

    “The objective of the ban is to protect the health of third parties, especially workers,” he said. “And those who work in the hospitality section are more vulnerable as they are exposed [to environmental tobacco smoke] for longer and at higher concentrations.”

    Fenton Howell, a specialist in public health medicine and spokesman for Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) Ireland, said: “Practically every well designed study looking at the economic impact of such a ban showed no negative impact on business. Similar doomsday scenarios were predicted for theatres, cinemas, airlines, duty free, and newspaper advertising when smoking bans were implemented, and absolutely none came to pass.”

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    The Health Effects of Environmental Tobacco Smoke in the Workplace is available at

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