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Smokers outside a pub on Thomas Street, Dublin, in 2004 Photocall Ireland
workplace smoking

Almost 7 per cent drop shows smoking ban is working, insists Cancer Society

A recently published ESRI working paper had found that the workplace ban had “little or no effect” on smoking habits.

THE IRISH CANCER Society is insisting laws like the workplace smoking ban are helping alter attitudes towards the habit, and have resulting in a significant drop in smoking prevalence.

A working paper published by the ESRI has claimed that the ban – introduced in June 2004 – had “little or no effect on reducing smoking habits” amongst employed people.

The report, published last month on the think-tank’s website, said that the introduction of the law had provided employed smokers with an extra incentive to quit, and aimed to discover if this was incentive enough for people.

However, based on 2008 figures, the researchers found that the majority of workers were undeterred: “In fact, the evidence suggests a significantly larger decrease in smoking prevalence among the non-workers relative to the employed”.

According to the report, 22.9 per cent of workers smoked in 2002, but five years later that number was up to 24.8 per cent. Amongst those not employed, there was a 0.5 per cent drop in the same period.

Responding to those findings, the Irish Cancer Society’s Kathleen O’Meara says that the most up-to-date data, which monitors the entire population, shows that since the introduction of the ban, the national prevalence of smoking has fallen from 28.5 per cent to 21.7 per cent.

“That’s a 6.8 per cent reduction which is a phenomenal achievement and shows our health legislation is working,” O’Meara told

“The thing is the smoking ban was never designed to help people quit – it was always about protecting workers from second-hand smoke.

“At the time when it was being debated there was a substantial dip in smoking prevalence, as a result of the high level of debate around the dangers of smoking.

“That highlights the need for ongoing reminders and ongoing media campaigns around smoking.”

O’Meara said the workplace smoking ban had been hugely influential in changing attitudes regarding smoking.  ”It’s really popular, and it’s highly self-regulating – people just observe it themselves”.


John Mallon of Forest Éireann, a smokers’ rights group that receives much of its funding from the tobacco industry, insists the smoking ban “hasn’t worked on a variety of levels”.

“We were initially told in 2003 that it was being brought-in as a result of the harmful effects of second-hand smoke — but in fact this was the first salvo in a battle to marginalise smokers.

“What in fact has happened is that the ban has destroyed the licensing trade – you had pubs literally closing down overnight.

“I’ve heard people talking in the last few days about the battle to ‘denormalise’ smoking. I’m being demonised just because I want to have a few smokes – it amounts to incitement to hatred.”

Health Minister James Reilly told an Oireachtas committee earlier this year that he is looking at extending the existing smoking ban to cover public spaces like beaches and parks.

Read: Reilly working towards ‘smoke free’ Ireland by 2025 >

Read: James Reilly channels Arnold Schwarzenegger in battle against cigarettes >

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