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No Smoking Ban without Fire

from NottArsed: The Nottwel Review, 2003

From January 1 2004, the Irish government plans to ban smoking in all workplaces – including pubs and restaurants. The idea behind the law, of course, is to protect non-smokers from the dangers of passive smoking. But hang on, I thought, don’t non-smokers have a choice as to whether they enter a smoking area or not? Don’t they give up their right to complain when they make that crucial choice to sit with smokers? It was only later that I realised this was a smokescreen of an argument. The employees of establishments where smoking is permitted, for example, do not always have a say in whether or not they inhale passive smoke; jobs are often not available in non-smoking establishments. What’s more, over two-thirds of all Irish citizens are non-smokers. Since when were the rights of the minority (in this case, the right of a smoker to light up) allowed to infringe upon the rights of the majority (the right of a non-smoker to a smoke-free life)? The idea that we can have smoking and non-smoking areas has proven to be a farce, as there is invariably no proper partition between the two sections. What’s more, requiring every single pub or restaurant to install a special filter system to control the smoke would bankrupt hundreds of family businesses.

Recent evidence suggests that thirty minutes of passive smoking has as bad an effect on the heart as twenty cigarettes. Smokers have their rights, and nobody is talking about a complete ban on fags. I can smoke in my own home; I can smoke on the street before I go into or after I come out of a restaurant. It’s not government’s place to protect people from themselves, but it is the State’s responsibility to protect people from other people. A cigarette is an instrument of death. I should not be allowed walk into a restaurant with a lit cigarette any more than I should be allowed walk in with a loaded gun. And no section of society should in this modern world be championing the rights of a group who cause thousands of deaths around the globe each year, and who – through choices they make themselves – take hospital beds and essential services from those who need medical treatment through no fault of their own.

Public establishments like bars and restaurants have moral and legal obligations to protect their customers. Their kitchens must be clean, their toilets must be clean; from January, their air must be clean as well. If you choose not to smoke, that is your decision. If I choose to smoke, that is mine. From next year, I will not be infringing upon your right to make that decision for yourself anymore.


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