Most bar owners and pub-goers declared Ireland's (search) smoking ban a success Tuesday, the day after the country became the first in the world to outlaw tobacco in workplaces.
And publicans, the government and anti-smoking activists agreed that Ireland's largely trouble-free introduction of the ban Monday should inspire other nations to do likewise.
"Many countries are watching us in the belief that if it can succeed in Ireland, it can succeed anywhere," said Dr. Luke Clancy, chairman of the Irish chapter of a U.S.-headquartered pressure group called Action on Smoking and Health (search).
Clancy called the government's decision to outlaw smoking inside more than 10,000 pubs in this country of 3.9 million "a cultural shift which I believe will see the rate of smoking drop greatly and relatively quickly."
"In my clinic, people tell me all the time that they only smoke when they're in the pub," said Clancy, who has identified pubs as Ireland's No. 1 recruiting ground for young smokers.
Health Minister Micheal Martin, who announced plans for the ban 14 months ago, has also outlawed the sale of cheap 10-cigarette packets and ordered shops to lock up their stocks of tobacco (search) products rather than display them openly. He hopes such measures will discourage youths from starting.
He rejected criticism that the ban was denying smokers their civil liberties. "The only fundamental right I see here is the right of a worker to work in a clean, safe environment," said Martin, who predicted that 150 fewer people each year would die from smoking-related illnesses (search).
Bar managers, customers and the police reported few tensions or troubles as smokers largely opted to take their habit outdoors onto the sidewalk on a mild and dry Monday night. Most pubs had already erected signs at the front doors warning that violators could face up to a $3,700 fine.
Even some previously critical publicans conceded that their watering holes had never looked better once the smoke cleared.
"This is a good first night of the honeymoon. Maybe we are the innovators of the world," said Oliver Hughes, co-owner of Dublin's trendiest microbrewery pub, the Porterhouse, who had warned that European tourists would be deterred by the ban. His newly opened north-side pub was packed Monday night.
A major topic among smokers standing outside pubs was whether the ban would inspire them to quit — or whether, in time, they would find pubs in discreet locations that flout the ban.
"I'm not too pleased with the idea of standing on street corners for the rest of my life," said Brian Comerford, 25, between drags on a hand-rolled cigarette. "I only ever smoke when I drink, so I don't really know what to do. I may end up spending more time at home in front of the telly (TV)."
Scores of pubs with unused outdoor areas have begun to convert them into heated, canopied terraces for smoking customers. And the owner of one of Ireland's best-known pubs, Johnny Fox's in the mountains south of Dublin, has designed his own unique respite — a 1950s double-decker bus parked outside the door for customers to sit in as they smoke. The "happy smoking bus" comes equipped with heaters and ashtrays.
"This is an excellent way 'round the law," said owner Tony McMahon, who is also offering his customers tobacco-free herbal cigarettes. "They taste and smell horrible but people will still want something in their hand."
McMahon opposes the ban but, like most publicans, is confident that it will take root in Ireland and spread across the European Union.
"Ireland is taking the lead. Every other country will watch its progress," he said. "Smoking bans will be the norm in Europe within 10 years, mark my words."