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No Butts

As New Zealand prepares to become the third country in the world to stub out smoking in public places, RACHEL HELYER DONALDSON travels to Ireland and Norway to see how they have fared since kicking the habit.

O n December 10, our social scene changes forever, as New Zealand becomes the third country in the world to outlaw smoking in workplaces, including bars and restaurants. Even actors on stage and old soldiers at the RSA will be compelled to be smokefree. Smokers will have to go outside, or else the employer or business owner will face a $4000 fine.

Yet, the law still divides opinion. At the heart of the debate is the right of the smoker to enjoy their nicotine fix in a public place versus the non-smoker's right to a healthy environment. The pro-choice lobby fume about "draconian measures", while the Ministry of Health says that smoking is a factor in 4500 deaths every year and, more contentiously, it links second-hand smoke to another 400.

Despite ongoing argument, the weight of scientific evidence shows that passive smoking is harmful. According to Cancer Research UK, passive smokers are 20 to 30% more likely to develop lung cancer than people not exposed to smoke. The UK Government's expert advisory committee SCOTH (Scientific Committee on Tobacco and Health) recently concluded that passive smoking is a "substantial public health hazard", with about a 25% increased risk of lung cancer and heart disease in non-smokers exposed to other people's smoke.

The same arguments are raging in smoke-filled bars from Britain to Brazil, as governments and local authorities look to where smoking is already outlawed. With domino-like effect, places as widespread as California in the US and Cherkassy in the Ukraine have implemented such legislation. In March - a few days before April Fool's Day, critics of the ban noted - Ireland became the first country in the world to ban smoking. Since June, the only thing they smoke in Norway is - so the government ad goes - salmon. Following New Zealand this month, Sweden and Malta will make smoking in enclosed public places illegal in 2005; Scotland (where 13,000 die each year from smoking-related causes) will do so in 2006.

Public feeling against smoking has gathered pace of late, even in countries where smoking is commonplace. A recent survey of Brits by the Daily Mirror revealed that 77% of those polled wanted smoking banned in restaurants, and 58% wished to see smoking stopped in all enclosed public places. Of the 26% surveyed who were smokers, more than three-quarters (76%) were in favour of a ban in pubs.

Most of the controversy has focused on the rights of customers (smoking and non-smoking) but, to date, all legislation passed worldwide primarily protects the rights of workers, especially those in the hospitality trade. In the two countries that have banned smoking outright, the majority of people are finally acknowledging that it is good for employees and also good for them.

Like New Zealand, Ireland and Norway each have a population of around four million people, roughly a quarter of whom smoke. As the smoke lifts there, it seems clear that smokers are cutting back.

The latest available figures show that, in the six months to April 2004, at least 7000 Irish smokers quit in the run-up to the introduction of the anti-smoking law. Around three-quarters of smokers want to quit. Norway's Department of Health, too, says that regular smokers decreased significantly prior to the ban. A 2003 survey showed that adult smokers were down from 29% in 2002 to 26%. Several months in, with the health of both countries improving, is an anti-smoking law really such a drag?

On Halloween weekend in Dublin, the chilly autumn air is thick with smog. It's difficult to say how much the clusters of smokers - tonight dressed as ghouls and sexy devils - standing outside the city's many bars are contributing to the haze. Regardless, they're just obeying the law. Despite the outcry that preceded it, it seems the ban has not been as scary as anticipated. "Popping outside has become the accepted norm," says bar manager Martin Hughes, 31. Trade was hit initially, but is starting to balance out, he says. "Like anything, a new upheaval just finds its level."

From the Bad Ass Café in Temple Bar, where singer Sinead O'Connor once worked, to Nochter's on Sheriff St, a working-class pub in a reputedly bad area, customers in Dublin's pubs and restaurants are complying with the smoking ban. They shelter in doorways or sit at outdoor tables. Cigarette butts are stashed in wall-mounted ashtrays with humorous stickers ("Does my butt look big in this?") One barman describes the phenomenon as "a whole new social scene", while local radio DJs joke about "smirting" - smoking and flirting.

Not all Irish eyes are smiling, however. Seamus O'Donoghue, president of the Vintners' Federation of Ireland, which represents 6000 pubs outside Dublin, says trade is down by as much as 30% since the ban came into place. Pubs without beer gardens have been hardest hit. Rural pub culture - a cornerstone of traditional Irish life - has changed dramatically. The craic has left the building; snugs are silent as musicians who smoke now play their songs of rebellion in one another's homes. Many country publicans now work second jobs and only open evenings, O'Donoghue says. "If you drive to a town in rural Ireland with five to six pubs, it's unlikely any would be open during the day."

Smoking should be tolerated, says the ex-smoker. "It's difficult to argue against the health issue, but where does it stop? The air may be cleaner in the pub, but the atmosphere has changed completely."

Older drinkers are unhappy, too. Andy Cullins, 72, feels like a "pariah" standing outside. He still goes for a couple of pints every day, but the ban "has lessened the pleasure ... I don't stay as long." Desmond Walsh, 63, still reads his morning paper over a Guinness. But he's against the ban. "I'd prefer it if we had a choice of smoking pubs and non-smoking ones." Has he cut down? "Not really, no. It's just very inconvenient."

Such views are outdated and in the minority, lawmakers say. In both countries, support for the ban has gone up since it became legislation.

In spring 2003, just over half of Norwegians were positive or neutral about a smokefree law. Some 18 months later, 79% feel this way, says Siri Naesheim, legal adviser for Norway's Directorate for Health and Social Affairs.

Before the law was announced in Ireland, Office of Tobacco Control (OTC) figures showed 59% supported smokefree bars and restaurants; by late summer, 82% supported it. Crucially, says OTC spokeswoman Valerie Robinson, 95% now view the legislation as a "critical" public health measure.

Ireland has seen some revolt, but all 12 prosecutions have been upheld, says Robinson. Perhaps the most famous case is the first pub to challenge the ban, Fibber Magees in West Galway (and its fittingly named publican Ronan Lawless), which was fined 9400 euros. Recently, the Daily Telegraph reported prohibition-style backrooms for smoking popping up in pubs on Ireland's west coast.

But, on the whole, most venues seem to be complying. After all, not to do so would jeopardise their licences. Robinson describes compliance as "very high, in the order of 95%". She points out that although some news media paint pubs outside Dublin as beyond the long arm of the law, the OTC is based in Kildare and works with 11 local health boards throughout the country.

Inspections are targeted towards the few not complying, as society takes the law on itself, says Robinson. "Hospitality managers, owners and customers are all making it a success."

Of the many bar managers and punters the Listener spoke to in Ireland, most had seen someone light up by mistake. "When it first came in, the odd guy would walk in with a cigarette, go 'Jaysus' and then walk out," says Hughes. Outside a café, insurance broker Shay, 37, reveals that he has never broken the law in Dublin but recently did so at a country pub, at a lock-in after a funeral. "The bar manager was smoking, so said we could, too."

In Norway, there have been no official reports of non-compliance and no fines given out, says Naesheim. Most of the 195 warnings issued have been about correct signage and enforcement processes, rather than smoking.

The OTC recently launched a new advertising campaign ("Smokefree is working. Let's keep it that way") in an attempt to keep up that public awareness.

Ireland's awareness campaign coincided with the colder months, when either the ban or the bars will be truly challenged. As in New Zealand, both the Irish and Norwegian governments launched the law in summer to ease people into the concept of smoking outdoors. "I'm very surprised it's working," says Diarmuid, 32, an expat Irishman visiting from Madrid. "By December, we might see some rebellion." Publican Gary Cusack, 34, disagrees. "The weather has already changed. People are used to it. It's been in so long now, they've adjusted."

But in Norway temperatures can plummet by as much as 20? in winter. "The big test comes from now until Easter," warns Baard Fiksdal, from Norway's hospitality association Reiselivsbedriftenes Landsforening (RBL). "Summertime caused no problem at all, most of the beer market was outside." Despite this, he says, traditional-style "brown" pubs (so-called after their nicotine-stained décor) are already suffering by as much as 50%. It's normal for around 100 restaurants to go bankrupt every quarter. This winter that figure could triple.

Norwegian bar-owners should worry, reckons watchmaker Hans, 31. He's smoking outside a bar in Akerbrugge, a shiny, hip development on Oslo's waterfront, on a Friday night in early November. But he won't be doing that much longer. "My friends and I have already planned to have parties at home throughout winter. When it's -10?, I won't be going outside!"

The Mexican Lounge in busy Karl Johan's Gate, a pedestrianised thoroughfare full of pubs and restaurants, is overflowing with customers smoking on its sidewalk. But it could be busier, says assistant manager Hårvard Andreassen, 33, outside on a smoke break. "We don't have a problem with people breaking the law - the problem is people are not going out."

A few doors down, Woodstock Music Café manager Birgitte, 29, says that, as a smoker, she sees both sides. "It's sad, at a fancy restaurant, to have to go outside. Yet it's very nice to work in clean air and not come home smelling like an ashtray." But, she adds, she goes out a lot less, or goes out later.

Back in Ireland, musician Aoife, 24, says she stays home more, too. Bars and clubs reek of stale booze and sweat. Even the outside craic has gone. "At first, we would talk about the fact that we were smoking outside, but we're getting tired of that now."

It seems the "social smoker" is being turned into the solitary smoker, left out in the cold. Not everyone minds. Outside a restaurant, Oslo mac operator Espen, 36, says that it's "become natural" to smoke outdoors. With a young child, he doesn't smoke at home, either. "This is fine." Besides, he says, "a smoker is a person who needs space to come and think. I needed a break from the discussion inside."

Even RBL's Fiksdal sees the law as ultimately a good thing.

"Before, at parties, we were smoking with two hands! In half a year, the smoking ban will not be an issue."

Humans adapt, he says, as do businesses. "Many will find ways to improve themselves, such as serving food."

Dublin's Hughes compares the law change to the millennium. Some thought the end of the world was nigh then, too.

"All the talk was about planes falling from the sky and computers crashing, but it was the most seamless transition. That's exactly what this has been like."

SMOKE-FREE ZONE

Entering Mother O'Reilly's, a large Dublin pub with Pulp and New Zealand's Bic Runga on the jukebox, you immediately detect a difference. The air is noticeably clean and clear. But the atmosphere is different, too. It's Saturday night, yet it feels sedate, almost sober. The Halloween group of Clockwork Orange droogs rush through to the outside beer garden. It's so well sheltered and heated that it could be inside. The smoky atmosphere is convivial as around 30 people - about the same number as inside the pub, but squeezed into a smaller space - chat and laugh over a pint and cigarette.

"This way everyone's accommodated," says smoker Steve Delaney, 29, a barman in Grafton St, where, he admits, the situation is not ideal. "You've got a choice of the front door or the back door. We don't have a garden."

Smoker Kathleen, 50, sits inside with her non-smoking husband, Mattie. The ban's made her cut down. "It helps the workers and the air is cleaner." Mattie is less agreeable: "Having to go outside is not right - it's cold and it could be dangerous. The streets are littered with cigarette butts, that's one thing I notice now."

Pub owner David Mahon, 45, knows his business is better off than some. "The fact that I have the beer garden means I'm holding my trade."

Most bars have had to be "a bit inventive" to comply and keep customers. Outside the pub next door, for example, stands a lone doorman; inside is a heated courtyard crammed with smokers. Formerly the front of the pub, it has since been demolished to cater for customers who smoke.

The legislation has been "a learning curve" for the hospitality industry, says Mahon. Mother O'Reilly's is yet to see how the winter goes. "We're a music bar from September, usually. This year we've delayed that until November, as there are too many people out the back." Hopefully, he says, they'll come back in.