Skip to main content

Smokers hid in toilet stalls yesterday as Ireland's ban on tobacco in the workplace, including the country's 10,000 usually smoky pubs, began its first divisive day.

Over lunchtime pints, Dublin friends and workmates argued over the merits of outlawing cigarettes indoors, until the smokers ducked outdoors for a chilly smoke on city sidewalks choked with exhaust fumes.

Health Minister Micheal Martin, who pushed for three years to ban workplace smoking, celebrated with anti-smoking activists at Bewley's tea house in downtown Dublin. He predicted other European nations would soon follow Ireland's example.

Ireland's sweeping nationwide ban is the world's strictest and goes well beyond statewide measures such as those in California and Delaware, which prohibit smoking in bars and restaurants.

In Canada, many provinces have been wrestling with the issue of smoking bans as more and more cities, including Victoria, Toronto and Ottawa, pass their own bylaws restricting tobacco use.

In the blue-collar pubs of north Dublin, Mr. Martin's crusade provoked joy and fury.

"This is the worst idea any Irish government's ever had," said Gerry O'Connor, 32, a prison guard sitting sullenly in a corner of John Doyle's pub. He'd just been busted by the bartender for trying to sneak a smoke in the pub's lavatory.

But bartender John Golding, 21, said, "I think this ban's a great idea. Until now I've gone home from work with a hacking cough and a sore throat from the smoke. The ban means there's going to be a lot more people quitting [smoking] No more peer pressure over a pint."

Ireland's airwaves and barstool discussions have been dominated by debate over the rights and wrongs of smoking. A National Smokers Helpline has been inundated with calls from people seeking nicotine patches, counselling and other break-the-habit aids. Associated Press