Cigarette ban assaults Irish pub traditions

    Sitting in a pub in Colleraine, Northern Ireland, as far away from the Republic as possible while still being in Ireland, I notice the large cloud of smoke hovering above the bar from all the cigarettes. It’s not anything unusual, of course, and it’s almost comforting in a sense of familiarity. On the other hand, my sweater and pants are going to smell horrible tomorrow, and I won’t even have had one cigarette. After reading the newspaper over the last few weeks, I remark on how that cloud will always be there in this pub. Unfortunately, this is not true in the Republic of Ireland. In fact, Ireland has now gone, in one year, from no rules about smoking in pubs to California-esque militant laws that effectively destroy the vast smoking culture of the pubs.

    Yes, it is a sad year for pubs and publicans this year. The government has begun a large, well-financed, ad campaign denouncing drinking among college students and young people all together. The laws for closing times are being enforced more often in the major cities. And now, the thousands who have a cigarette with their beer will now have to stand outside in the bitter cold.

    In a disconcertingly sudden move, the Irish Minister for Health has proposed and passed a law banning all forms of smoking from any pubs, bars and nightclubs. His reason is that the heavy smoke is dangerous to bartenders’ health. Starting next year, the Irish pub, saturated with cigarette smoke and alcohol breath will have to be content with alcohol breath.

    I have never smoked a cigarette, but I completely empathize with Irish smokers. The sudden health-conscious change of heart in the Irish government is a pointless attack on culture and tradition.

    In the last 20 years or so, there has been a rapidly rising trend of antismoking culture. In California, smokers are routinely subject to all sorts of harassment, even if they are abiding by the rules. Mothers walking down a street will angrily tell a smoker to put his cigarette out if he or she is smoking too close to an area with children. A person’s social class may be inferred by whether they actually use their “”cigarette”” break.

    Though this social attitude has not reached Ireland, the legal attitude has. With ad campaigns to stop smoking, the government thinks that people will actually stop. In America, everyone laughs at the U.S. Surgeon General’s warnings on the cigarette packs, but in Ireland, the warnings are legally required to be large enough to cover half the pack, and they say, in big bold letters, “”Smoking Kills””, or even, “”Smoking Causes Erectile Dysfunction.”” With this measure to ban smoking from pubs and bars, they are hoping to put a final stab into the heart of the smoking community, that is, the only place smokers are allowed to congregate indoors.

    I have been surprised to find that no one seems to be alarmed. The general consensus is that it is a horrible thing to do to tradition, but no one really wants to lift a finger to say otherwise. In fact, most of the Irish smoking population does not think that anything will be done to enforce the rigid bans.

    This reasoning is certainly justified. Many safety rules are already ignored. Most prevalent of these would be the mandatory closing times for all public houses. As it stands, pubs must close at 11:30 p.m. on the weekdays and midnight on the weekends. In Dublin, Cork, and some parts of Limerick and Galway, these rules are indeed enforced by the patrolling Gardai. However, these parts of the cities comprise very little area and business compared to rural pubs, which stand as beacons of social activity in the countryside. These pubs, dependent on their drunken revellers, must stay open as long as drinks are bought in order to stay in business. Understandably, the Gardai does not have time to patrol the old, bumpy roads around Ireland trying to fine and shut down every establishment open after 11:30 p.m.

    In the same sense, most Irish drinkers/smokers do not believe that a new, health-conscious government is going to stop them from doing what they have been doing their whole lives. They know perfectly well what smoking will do. They should be more worried about what they will be doing to themselves after a few more pints. And since the Irish have a way of being somehow optimistically cynical, it has been said that the government wouldn’t possibly take “”our only comfort away.””

    As for the ethics of antismoking laws, they come from the understandable reasoning that smoking can cause cancer in those around you, including yourself. However, no one ever forces anyone to go to a pub. Additionally, the vast majority of bartenders are either smokers themselves or do not care if they are immersed in the smoke cloud, because that’s what they would be doing if they weren’t working.

    Perhaps this is the best form of protest: ignoring the laws altogether. If no one enforces it, nothing will happen.

    Looking again at the smoke cloud in Coleraine, perhaps the North won’t be the last bastion for smoking in a social setting. Perhaps Ireland will never opt for the “”healthy”” changes, and changing is exactly what Ireland doesn’t want.

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