11 September 2003 Edition
No smoke without a fine
BY JOANNE CORCORAN
HERE WE GO AGAIN. A new law is being introduced and the Irish are falling over themselves to see who can come up with the best doomsday predictions. Seemingly, if the planned 26-County legislation for a smoking ban is allowed to come into effect next year, every pub, restaurant and hotel is going to have to close down. Yes, that's right, the Irish people are so incapable of removing those pesky cancer sticks from their mouths, that there is no way they will be venturing into any buildings other than their own homes, if the law is passed.
Right. And only non-smokers ever get on planes. Or go to the pictures.
From 1 January 2004, new Tobacco Smoking (Prohibition) Regulations will come into force in the 26 Counties,
protecting third parties such as workers from the ill-effects of environmental tobacco smoke (ETS). Amazingly, if the law is introduced, this state will be the first in the EU to enact such a prohibition. Imagine, the conservative old South leading the way on a progressive new law. Who'd have thought it?
Many other European countries, including Norway, Sweden, Germany, Finland and France, are all planning on following this state's shining example, but none quite so soon.
However, if the anti-smoking ban lobby - comprised mainly of beverage, cigarette and hospitality businesses - gets its way, we'll be keeping our smoke-filled pub tradition, and the mantle of having the highest growing statistics of heart disease and cancer in Europe.
TAKE YOUR DIRTY HABIT ELSEWHERE
Much public debate has been generated around this issue and will probably continue for some time.
Public support appears to be firmly behind the new law - an MRBI poll taken in June showed that 67 per cent supported its introduction, an approval rate that has grown since the start of the year. In addition, the healthcare community, trade unions, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children (membership is cross-party) and the Medical
Deans from most of the states universities, have supported the ban.
The anti-ban lobby argues against the law on mainly two points. Firstly, and most importantly as far as they are concerned, cutting smoking in pubs and restaurants will ruin the Irish economy. `Independent'studies carried out by cigarette companies and vintners associations claim that most businesses will lose upwards of 30% in profits, while many might be forced to close. Secondly, they argue that there is no proof that `passive smoking' - if it in fact exists - does cause any harm. In addition to these two arguments, they also claim that the ban will make Ireland a nanny-state and will ruin our traditional pub-based culture.
The interest lobbies that argue against the ban are wrong on so many levels, but, in the interests of brevity, this article is just going to tackle them on the obvious ones.
PROFITS UP IN SMOKE
When international policy makers came together to consider the economic issue of smoke-free laws, they encountered a large amount of conflicting material that had to be waded through to get to reliable statistics.
In 2002 a review was completed by a research team led by Michelle Scollo of the VicHealth Centre for Tobacco Control, Australia. They established criteria under which to place the multiple surveys they came across, which included:
- Whether they were based on objective measures, such as tax receipts, employment statistics, bankruptcy data;
- Whether they were carried out by independent sources;
- Whether there were controls used for overall economic trends;
- Whether appropriate statistical tests were used.
Scollo and her team found that a third of the studies they examined had been carried out either directly or indirectly by the tobacco industry and that 94 per cent of the tobacco industry studies claimed a negative economic impact from the ban. Of the studies that met the criteria, all concluded that bars and restaurants experienced no negative impact on sales or employment from smoke-free laws.
Anyone noticing a pattern?
To further support their studies, the team looked at a number of other countries and states that had implemented the ban.
In California, which eliminated tobacco smoke in restaurants in 1995 and bars in 1998, those industries have continued to grow according to state statistics. In fact, by the end of 2001, revenues from restaurants and bars had jumped to a massive $36.8 billion, from $25.5 billion in 1995. Also at the end of that period, more restaurants and bars were open in the state than had been before smoke-free laws (140 more bars had been opened).
In relation to tourism, the state's Department of tourism reported a flourishing industry and showed figures revealing an increase of over 55,000 jobs in the sector since the smoking ban.
In New York, the Cornell University's Centre for Hospitality Research published a study in June 2003, which showed that:
- Smoke-free regulations were associated with statistically significant increases in eating and drinking in the areas concerned;
- Annual payrolls in dining and lodging establishments increased following the implementation of smoke-free regulations. Studies in Ottawa, Canada, found that 181 new or expanded bars were built since they implemented the ban.
The team came across some studies that argued against the smoking ban, but their claims generally had no substance. Research carried out for Nova Scotia's Department of Health looked at the cases of Beverly Hills and Bellflower in California, as well as Ontario, where the hospitality industry claimed that their businesses had been damaged by the introduction of smoke-free laws. The dire estimates and predictions were later proven wrong by real studies based on tax data.
As far back as 1986, the US Surgeon General proclaimed that passive smoking was a cause of disease, including lung cancer, in healthy non-smokers. Since then, agreement that ETS is harmful to health has been growing steadily among members of the international scientific community.
Given the increasing concern about ETS, this year the 26-County Health and Safety Authority and the Office of Tobacco Control commissioned an independent scientific working group to investigate the health risks. None of the members had any vested interest in the tobacco industry or with any anti-tobacco lobby groups.
The group's main findings are as follows:
- ETS is carcinogenic, causes lung cancer and probably other cancers;
- It causes heart disease;
- It causes respiratory problems in adults and children;
- It has adverse effects on pregnant women and children;
- The current range of air-conditioning technologies is ineffective in removing the risk of ETS to health;
- It causes irritation of the eyes, nose and respiratory tract for bar workers in particular.
The World Health Organisation, International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the US National Institutes of Health have declared ETS to be carcinogenic and the IARC, a global public health agency, has asserted that ETS causes lung cancer. The general consensus among governments and scientific agencies is that smoking and second hand smoke causes heart disease - incidentally the most common cause of death in Ireland.
These aren't imaginary statistics. If a group of highly qualified independent scientists come up with this data, verses a group of scientists paid by the tobacco or vintners industry, whom are you going to believe?
While most pubs around the 26 Counties appear to be caught up in paranoid meltdown scenarios, pubs on the border are coming up with seemingly legitimate objections to the smoking ban. They say that given the close proximity of pubs on either side of the divide, people can just as easily travel North to a smoking pub, rather than stay South.
While this issue is fairly peculiar to Ireland, it is not as pressing as it initially seems.
Firstly, these pub owners are assuming that every one of their customers is a smoker willing to travel that little extra distance for a cigarette with their pint. They are not taking into account their non-smoking customers (apparently there are a few), or the fact that with the new drink-driving laws bringing the allowed alcohol consumption down to under a pint, people are not going to be able to hop into their cars quite so easily to go for a drink.
Also, while we have a border, we shouldn't forget that so does California. Nevada (home of Las Vegas) lies right beside the Golden State and has failed to tempt millions of the state's residents over the line to smokers' paradise.
FIGHTING THE INEVITABLE
The new smoking law is coming in - unless McDowell has an extremely embarrassing u-turn planned. At this point the anti-ban lobby are just fighting the inevitable. Their motivation? Not any fear for the hospitality industry's employees or an economic downturn in the state. And their claims that the ill-effects of passive smoking are a figment of the international science community's imagination, is pure imagination of their own. Their motivation is plain greed - the idea that Irish people may cut down the habit that's given them shorter life spans and lighter pockets. Our culture may indeed change, but can anyone really argue that it will be for the worse?