Health Minister Micheal Martin said regulations being finalized by his office would “radically” step up environmental controls on tobacco smoking.
The proposed ban can be made law by Martin without debate in the Dail, a fact that drew sharp criticism from the Labor Party health spokesperson, Liz McManus, who said that such a ban should be debated in the Dail chamber.
“When will this secondary legislation be introduced and will the minister guarantee that there will be a debate on it?” McManus said. “The legislation will have a major impact, so it is important to have a full debate.
“The minister should not think he can slip the legislation through the House without proper debate just because he has gone public on the issue elsewhere,” she said.
Martin said smoking is the greatest killer in the country and the cost of treating smoking-related illnesses has a huge impact on the health services.
It is estimated that about 30 percent of Irish adults smoke and about 7,000 deaths a year involve smoking related-diseases.
A publicans’ spokesman, Tadg O’Sullivan, chief executive of the Vintners Federation, said he welcomed the fact that the minister appears to have recognized that a blanket total ban in pubs is “unworkable and unenforceable.”
“The question is, how do you balance the health of our staff and our customers, and indeed our own members, the anti-everything brigade and the need to provide a good environment?” O’Sullivan said.
O’Sullivan said there is no denying that smoking isn’t good for you. The Federation accepts that things have to change, he said, and would be holding discussions with the minister.
O’Sullivan’s members have been working on installing better air conditioning and filtration systems to improve the air quality in pubs that would enable customers who “had to or needed to” smoke to continue to do so.
However, the barmen want a total pub ban, arguing that if the prohibition is going to be extended to workplaces, bars are where they work.
Bigger pubs may divide food areas from pure drinking areas, while smaller pubs may drop the availability of food like sandwiches and soup except at specific periods of the day.
The minister said the new restrictions would have to affect pubs serving food since there is an equity issue if smoking is to be banned in restaurants.
“In pubs, we are talking about when food is served,” Martin said. “Food isn’t served right all throughout the day. When food is not being served, the controls will not apply.”
Questioned about how the ban would apply in pubs, Martin said that if a customer orders a sandwich in a bar during the day, then smoking would have to stop. It would be the responsibility of the proprietor to ensure the law was enforced.
“One has to have equity between different eating establishments,” he said. “You can’t discriminate against one particular type of eating establishment.”
The minister said that some lobby groups are looking for a complete ban in pubs.
“I am trying to balance enforceability with equity and also with moves in the direction of environmental tobacco controls in pubs,” he said. “I think it is a reasonable move at this particular stage.”
The minister is also looking at banning smoking at bar counters to protect staff.
Smoking is already illegal on buses, public offices and buildings.
The new rules would do away with smoking cars on intercity trains. It would also be banned in all workplaces, apart from in designated smoking rooms.