Saturday, July 10, 2004
An aborted revolt against the Irish smoking ban
As Vice Squad reported sometime ago, in late March, Ireland became the first country in the world to prohibit smoking in all public buildings including pubs and restaurants. A small revolt against the ban began last Monday (see here and here -- subscription required). A Galway pub, Fibber Magees, decided to let their customers smoke at the upstairs tables. This was the first public defiance of the law. While the ban appears to enjoy strong support among the general population, this support is far from universal. The word about the rebellion spread quickly and on Tuesday night the upstairs of the pub was packed with smokers. The Health Minister Michael Martin promised quick punishment. According to the Irish law, the patrons caught smoking could be fined up to $3,700. The pub owners could face a $3,700 fine per each customer who violates the ban. The Fibber Magees' owners insist, however, that without letting their customers smoke, they could not survive anyway, because their business was off two thirds since the imposition of the ban. For a short while it looked as though some other pubs were going to join in on the revolt, but by Thursday the rebellion appeared to be over. Fibber Magees was closed by its owners until further notice. The owners promised to pursue their opposition to the ban “through lawful means.” It looks unlikely though that any effort to sue the government would be successful. Meanwhile, the government representatives said that they were preparing to both prosecute the customers who smoked in Fibber Magees on Wednesday night and petition the Irish High Court to punish the owners unless the latter promised to stop violating the law.
For the time being, the anti-smoking law has won in Ireland. It is less obvious that good sense has been victorious too. The apparent popular support of the smoking ban suggests that most people in Ireland either do not smoke or wish they didn’t. It does not necessarily imply that the ban itself is a reasonable public policy that enhances social welfare. Vice Squad has had lots of posts on smoking bans. Here is one useful general discussion.