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Irish ban on tobacco leaves smokers fuming

DUBLIN, MARCH 28. Tomorrow, the European country that practically invented bar culture outlaws smoking in pubs, clubs, restaurants and just about any other public place. And as anxious smokers across Europe — and especially Britain — follow Ireland's attempt to clamp down on a vice enjoyed by more than one in four of the population, already cunning plans are being laid to evade the ban.

Springing up in pub gardens and car parks are `smoking gazebos', canvas awnings under which stand an army of mushroom-shaped heaters ready to keep desperate addicts warm as they are forced outside for a fag. Johnnie Fox's, 18 km from the capital, has gone one better. The historic pub, favoured by politicians, has installed a smoking bus in its car park, where customers can go to smoke their hearts away in the dry. It is all good-natured stuff, a minor grass-roots rebellion against authority, but such comic attempts to defy the bureaucrats underline a wider, more serious point. Tomorrow's ban has the potential to be a mess of seismic proportions and already the doomsayers are lining up to warn that outlawing smoking in public is unenforceable.

"This is using a sledgehammer to crack a nut," said Simon Clark, director of the pro-smoking group Forest. "Look at what has happened in New York (which on Tuesday chalked up its first anniversary as a smoke-free city). The ban is adhered to rigorously up until 10 o'clock and then when everyone knows the inspectors have gone home people light up."

Theoretically, policing the ban will be left to the country's 41-strong team of tobacco control officers who will liaise with 350 environmental health officers. Publicans, restaurateurs and other bosses who ignore the ban face fines of up to euros 3,000 and the prospect of having their licence removed. Members of the public will be invited to do their bit by phoning a special number to snitch on those flouting the law.

Professor Luke Clancy, a consultant respiratory physician based in Dublin, is confident that where Ireland leads other countries will follow.

"I believe this will become the norm in Europe. In other countries the tobacco lobby is a lot more powerful than in Ireland. But its influence is waning." —

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