Yesterday, the Health Minister, Simon Harris, brought the proposal to cabinet. It was first tabled as a private members’ motion by Fine Gael senators, including Dr Reilly.
“No conversation can begin about tobacco without remembering 6,000 men and women of this country die every year, prematurely, because of this product,” Dr Reilly told Sean O’Rourke, on RTÉ Radio 1.
He said the ban would reduce second-hand smoke inhalation, reduce the discomfort of diners seated near a smoker, and was proposed in the hope of “denormalising smoking and protecting our children”.
“It’s annoying for people and more than annoying, it’s interfering with their ability to enjoy a meal outdoors on the sunny days that we do have in this country, without having the discomfort of people’s smoke blowing around them,” Dr Reilly said.
We are a society that likes to eat as a family, we like to go out as a family. We want our children with us when we go out for a meal and we don’t want them surrounded by smokers and thinking that this is normal behaviour, when, clearly, A, it’s not and, B, it’s very detrimental to their health.
However John Mallon, of the smokers’ representative group, Forest, said restaurants should be allowed to use their own discretion.
“Smoking is not an illegal habit in this country. It is not illegal in any country in the world that I know of, and, in the event, a smoker’s money is as good as anybody else’s money in a restaurant,” Mr Mallon said.
“They should, when they were bringing in the ban, have allowed indoor smoking rooms separate from non-smokers.
“If this is perceived as a problem...then allow the owner of the establishment involved to make their own decision to cater for both parties and then nobody needs be put out,” Mr Mallon said.
The Royal College of Physicians of Ireland Policy Group on Tobacco said it “strongly supports the proposed bill”.
Dr Des Cox, chair of the policy group and consultant in paediatric respiratory medicine, said that this is important in reducing smoking.
“Any level of exposure to tobacco smoke is unacceptable, and there is robust research, demonstrating a significant risk from secondhand smoke in an outdoor setting where smokers are present. The developing lungs of children are particularly susceptible to damage from second-hand smoke,” he said.