Ireland Launches World's Toughest Smoking Ban

Ireland (search) outlawed smoking in workplaces Monday, imposing the strictest anti-tobacco measure ever adopted by any country on earth — and one certain to change the atmosphere in the country's national institution, the pub.

"I guess I'll be staying home a lot more. It'll be the only place I can have a smoke with my drink," said Sean Hogan, a 46-year-old construction worker, who lit a final melancholy cigarette as the barman at the Brian Boru pub in north Dublin (search) called for last orders Sunday night.

The ban took effect at midnight, shortly after the nation's 10,000 pubs closed.

As of Monday morning, smoking sections in offices, hospitals, universities and restaurants were all closing down. By government order, "no smoking" signs were erected in pubs on their front doors, behind the bars and outside the restrooms — along with warnings that violators could face up to a $4,000 fine.

The only workplaces exempt from the ban are those that double as residences: hotel rooms, prison cells, psychiatric hospitals and nursing homes. Home-offices, company cars and truckers' cabs are also supposed to become no-smoking zones (search), although the government has conceded that the law won't be enforceable in such private areas.

Prime Minister Bertie Ahern (search), a nonsmoker and regular pubgoer, said he envisioned an Ireland where "future generations, thankfully, will never know what it was like to work in an enclosed, smoke-filled environment."

Health Minister Micheal Martin, who spearheaded the initiative, said he expected it would "take six weeks to two months for the ban to settle down." His target, he said, was for more than 90 percent compliance within the year.

Several opinion polls in the past year have indicated most Irish adults — about 30 percent of whom smoke — support the government crusade against tobacco.

"It will be marvelous to have a night out, then not wake up in the morning with your hair and clothes stinking of smoke," said homemaker Eileen Kennedy, who generally smokes a few cigarettes a week — when she goes out for a drink with her husband.

Martin's anti-smoking campaign — which involves graphic billboards and TV ads showing the damage cigarettes can do to the lungs, heart and brain — has inspired thousands to try to break the habit, seeking advice on nicotine-replacement therapy through a government-run helpline.

"I think, at the end of the day, a person can't argue with the logic of it because we all know cigarettes are bad for us," said cabbie Shay Kearney, a smoker who's thinking of quitting now. "And if it actually encourages people to give up, in the long term, maybe it's a good thing — obviously it's a good thing."

Owners of pubs and hotels warn the ban will alienate many European tourists and force away loyal customers. One pro-smoking pressure group predicts up to 65,000 job losses as pubs and hotels in rural areas are forced to close. But the two major publicans' associations backed off threats to block the ban in court.

Oliver Hughes, who owns a pub in Dublin's Temple Bar tourist quarter, said he expected European visitors "may find it hard to understand that they can't have a cigarette in Dublin, but if they go to Amsterdam they can have a joint."

But the government's Office of Tobacco Control cites its own polls indicating twice as many people think they will go to the pub more often after the ban than will stay away because of it.

Some pubs plan are developing chic new smoking areas outdoors, using canopies and outdoor gas fires to keep smoking customers comfortable and within the law. Others, particularly in poorly policed rural areas, say they will try to let their smoking regulars keep going and hope that the handful of Dublin-based inspectors enforcing the ban will pass them by.

But most pubs say they simply will order smokers outside onto the sidewalk if they want to light up.

Smokers on Sunday soberly pondered a chilly, windy, wet future trying to keep their cigarettes lit long enough to smoke them.

"The cancer rate might be going down, but bejesus, death by hypothermia will be going up," joked Eamon Clarke, a retired plumber. "I'll have to wear my long johns and two pairs of socks if I want a pint from now on."