Chair of the Policy Group on Tobacco at RCPI Professor Des Cox has sent a letter to Minister Simon Harris at the Department of Health calling for this proposal to be implemented as part of the country’s re-opening strategy.
“While we acknowledge the need for a phased re-opening of the economy as outlined by the Government,” he wrote, “our group request that all outdoor areas in bars become non-smoking zones when they re-open to maintain social distancing recommendations and to protect the general public and hospitality staff.
“On the back of the recently published Government roadmap for re-opening services across Ireland, we understand that plans for how public houses will run their services are currently being discussed. “We understand that the Department of Health are in dialogue with the Licensed Vintners’ Association (LVA) and Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI) about how and when the public houses will reopen.
“Currently the outdoor areas of the majority of public houses are designated smoking areas. If outdoor areas are to be used to facilitate social distancing when bars open up again, then smoking should be prohibited from all areas of all pubs when they reopen.
“Customers who are seated in the outdoor areas of bars should not be exposed to second-hand smoke. If bar staff are providing table service to all customers – including customers seated in the outdoor areas – they too will be exposed to second-hand smoke. There is no risk-free level of second-hand smoke and we need to protect the general public and in particular bar staff from the well-recognised health implications of second-hand smoke.”
“The latest evidence suggests that smokers are likely to be more vulnerable to Covid-19 infection. In addition, the very act of smoking involves fingers touching lips, which increases the possibility of virus transmission. For these reasons alone, smoking in any setting during the Covid-19 pandemic should be strongly discouraged.
“While we welcome the re-opening plan for Ireland and support businesses in their proposals to change their working conditions to protect public health, we ask that the Department of Health does not inadvertently allow for another public health crisis to develop as a consequence of implementing social distancing policies,” he concluded.
Naturally, the call has been opposed by both the LVA and the VFI with the LVA pointing out that there has been an extraordinary high level of compliance to the smoking ban legislation by both businesses and customers.
“The smoking ban has worked well, is fully understood and accepted by both customers and publicans and had achieved an exceptionally high compliance rate,” LVA Chief Executive Donall O’Keeffe told Drinks Industry Ireland, “We don’t believe there’s any realistic prospect of a legislative change in the short-term and we would fully oppose any such change. Our outdoor areas and beer gardens are valued by our customers and we’re determined they remain available for our customers, both smokers and non-smokers alike.”
Likewise, the VFI believes that the primary legislation would need to be amended for this to become law, “… and we have no Government at present to pass any laws,” stated VFI Chief Executive Padraig Cribben, “It is unnecessary. If publicans are using smoking areas for other activities they will take whatever measures are necessary to secure the health of their employees and customers”.