Making and using rules
Making and using rules

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Making and using rules

3.2 The policy behind Ireland's ban on smoking in the workplace

In order to explore these issues, we are going to look at the introduction of a rule in the Republic of Ireland – the ban on smoking in places where people work which was introduced in 2004. What I would like you to do first is to think about your own position on this subject. The purpose of the next activity is to provide you with an opportunity to think about your own attitudes to a particular kind of behaviour which many people feel should be subject to legal control. It is useful to work out what you think about a particular subject before engaging in more detailed study of it because it helps clarify the position from which you are arguing.

Activity 3a Smoking in the workplace

Timing: 0 hours 20 minutes

Consider the following questions and make a note of your answers:

  1. Whether or not you smoke, do you think that people should be allowed to smoke in places where people work?

  2. Would you draw a distinction between places where all the people are working there (such as an office), and places where some are and some are not (such as a pub)?

  3. Whether or not you would draw a distinction, what are the reasons for your view?

  4. Do you think that smoking should be at the discretion of the person in control of the premises (such as the employer in an office or the publican in a pub), or controlled by legislation?


There are no ‘right’ answers to these questions. Their purpose is to help you clarify your own position before looking at the reasons for the introduction of the rule in Ireland.

Those reasons were set out by the Irish Health Minister, Mr Martin, in the debate on the Bill which introduced the new rule. Please read the extract from his speech in the Irish Parliament in Box 2, and then answer the questions which follow.

Box 2 Public Health (Tobacco) (Amendment) Bill 2003: Second Stage Minister for Health and Children (Mr Martin):

I move: ‘That the Bill be now read a Second Time’.

The battle against tobacco is one of the most important public health challenges facing us in the new millennium. I have made this area one of my main priorities as Minister for Health and Children.

The adverse impact of tobacco consumption on human health globally and locally is well documented. Tobacco smoke is the leading preventable cause of death and disability in Ireland. Medical evidence has repeatedly confirmed tobacco as a cause of cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke, common cancers, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthmatic attacks, low birth weight babies and sudden infant death syndrome. About 7,000 deaths in Ireland each year are attributable to tobacco related illness. Smoking tobacco products is one of the unhealthiest things a human being can do.

Life expectancy is lower in Ireland than the EU average and the diseases which contribute primarily to this are heart disease and cancer. Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of these diseases. Smoking is a major causative factor in about 90% of the 2,000 deaths from lung cancer each year and increases the risk of other cancers such as the mouth and throat. Smoking is also a primary cause of cardiovascular disease, the greatest single cause of mortality in Ireland. Tobacco is a significant burden to individuals, families and society through death, illness and medical costs. Reduction in tobacco use will increase life expectancy in Ireland and result in happier, healthier and better quality lives for many Irish people.

Evidence has accumulated year on year of the enormous world wide threat to human health from consumption of tobacco products. Studies carried out internationally in recent years have also confirmed that there is a significant risk to the health of the non-smoker from inhaling environmental tobacco smoke referred to as passive smoking.


The tobacco industry and its allies seem determined to try to undermine public health policy in the area of tobacco control. Perhaps we should regard this as testimony to how effective the measures contained in the Bill will be when enacted and commenced. We must not lose sight of the predatory nature of the tobacco industry. It is a global industry which has long regarded the World Health Organisation as its greatest enemy in preventing the spread of the global tobacco epidemic.

Much has been achieved in reducing the incidence of smoking in our population. By a combination of measures including legislation, regulation, health promotion and education we were able to achieve a level of 27% for 2002 as shown in the SLAN [Survey of Lifestyle, Attitudes and Nutrition] survey published earlier this year. More recent surveys conducted by the Office of Tobacco Control indicate smoking levels dropping to 25%. This is welcome news and the reduction achieved will have many benefits, particularly for future generations who will come to accept non-smoking as the social norm.

Our success in improving the health status of the nation is linked to further reducing the level of tobacco usage and in particular preventing young persons from starting to smoke. If the incidence of tobacco use can be reduced further we can make considerable progress towards a tobacco-free and a healthier society in the years to come. I am not suggesting that legislation alone, no matter how comprehensive, can create and sustain the environment necessary to prevent people from starting to smoke and to assist those who have already started to quit. Our anti-tobacco strategy will be multifaceted, containing as it will strong legislative controls and effective enforcement powers. However, the strategy will also have a fiscal element and the supports required by smokers to quit.

The implementation of this comprehensive strategy will, in time, effect the necessary attitudinal changes in society to tobacco consumption followed by the necessary behavioural changes. We owe it to ourselves, to the younger generation, and, indeed, to future generations to ensure that the war against tobacco is won. We must ensure that the children and young people of today do not become future victims of the tobacco industry, whether through being induced to smoke tobacco products or through exposure to and inhalation of environmental tobacco smoke.

Activity 3b

  1. Is Mr Martin's speech about smoking, or against smoking?

  2. Does Mr Martin make his argument mainly on the basis of a principled objection to smoking, or mainly on the basis of scientific evidence?

  3. Why do you think he mainly uses this argument in his speech?

  4. What benefits does Mr Martin say will result from the control of tobacco use?

  5. Identify those places in the speech where Mr Martin uses military language. Why do you think he does this?

  6. Does Mr Martin believe that law alone can prevent people from smoking?

  7. What wider impact does he believe the introduction of the law will have?


  1. The speech is an argument against smoking. He is making the case for the control of tobacco use.

  2. There is a strong emphasis in the speech on scientific evidence, primarily from medical research.

  3. It is often thought effective to justify a policy change using evidence from those with expertise in the particular area, especially if the evidence is strong (as it is in this case). By using arguments grounded in science it is easier for Mr Martin to avoid the criticism that the Bill is designed to limit personal freedom, for example.

  4. Mr Martin emphasises the health benefits, to those who smoke, those who inhale other people's smoke, and babies born to smokers. More generally, he emphasises the fact that the change in the law will result in an improved quality of life for many Irish people. In this way he draws attention to the social and communal benefits which will result from the introduction of the rule.

  5. Mr Martin uses the following phrases:

    ‘The battle against tobacco’

    ‘The tobacco industry and its allies’

    ‘We must not lose sight of the predatory nature of the tobacco industry’

    ‘It is a global industry which has long regarded the World Health Organisation as its greatest enemy’

    ‘We owe it to ourselves, to the younger generation, and, indeed, to future generations to ensure that the war against tobacco is won’

    He uses this military terminology to emphasise that this is a fight which he, the Irish government and the Irish people must win. Politicians introducing new laws often use powerful language like this – rhetoric – to persuade people of their cause.

  6. No. He sees it as part of the solution. The battle against smoking has to be fought using fiscal (monetary) incentives and other forms of support.

  7. Mr Martin believes that the introduction of the new law will change attitudes towards smoking and that this, in turn, will result in changes in behaviour.

Did you find Mr Martin's argument convincing? Whether or not you agree with the case he made against smoking, I think you can see that he used a number of effective ways of making that case.

The next set of passages I would like you to read and think about – in Box 3 – will give you an idea of the range of reactions to the new law. They are drawn from the editorial section of newspapers, in both Ireland and the UK.

Box 3 Newspaper extracts

Irish Times Editorial, 29 March 2004

The [Irish] Government's ban on smoking in the workplace takes effect today after months of muddle and uncertainty. The hospitality industry campaigned aggressively against its introduction … [but] the general public is favourably disposed towards the development. And, in future years, the ban … will probably be regarded as a major advance in the medical and social life of this State … Already, other European countries are looking to Ireland as an example of what can be done to minimise the lethal effects of nicotine addiction …

It may take months to ensure that members of the public and certain employers become compliant … Changing established habits is always difficult. But the pattern of adjustment elsewhere shows what can be done … [and] some 60% of the public … approves of the ban.

Irish Examiner Editorial, 30 March 2004

Few could anticipate how this controversial and far-reaching measure would be copper-fastened in the public mind as a positive and long-overdue initiative … Not surprisingly, however, opponents of the ban remain entrenched. No sooner had bars opened [on Monday] than some publicans were claiming a marked falloff in business, warning of dire repercussions for the hospitality industry and predicting it would be a political time bomb for the local elections in June.

Despite this vociferous reaction, Micheal Martin [the Irish health minister] will be quietly pleased by the positive response of the public at large … Politically, his long-term prospects as a heavy hitter have been dramatically improved … On a broader canvas, the [Irish] government will be vastly relieved at the public endorsement of the undeniable health, social and economic benefits of stubbing out cigarettes in the workplace.

Irish Independent Editorial, 29 March 2004

The main question relating to the smoking ban … is no longer whether it will be introduced, but whether it will work … There are two dangers. One arises in … enforcement … Often the difficulty is that laws are not enforced with sufficient rigour. Here we have almost the opposite difficulty. The ban will be deservedly popular. Its enforcement will come from the good sense of workmates and pub companions. The authorities should refrain from heavy-handed actions.

They should also take an early look at the anomalies in the regulations. Some, like the exemption for psychiatric hospitals, could hardly have been avoided. Others are absurd, like the ban on smoking in company cars. If the [Irish] government does not intend to enforce this, it should scrap it.

Daily Telegraph Editorial, 30 March 2004

What has happened in Ireland is a very serious assault on the civil liberties of a substantial minority of the population … Nobody is denying that there are many people who dislike the smell of tobacco, or that it is wrong that they should be expected to endure the company of smokers against their will. It may even be true … that inhaling second-hand tobacco smoke is dangerous to the health of non-smokers.

The answer to that is to ban smoking in bars and restaurants whose staff and customers do not like it, and to allow it in those where they do not mind. But, instead, Irish politicians have chosen to impose a blanket ban on smoking in all places of work, with only a very few exceptions. Other politicians throughout Europe will be watching the Irish experiment closely. You can be sure that if the Irish surrender to the new law without a strong show of resistance, it will not be long before a similar ban is introduced in Britain.

The Scotsman Editorial, 30 March 2004

What lessons are to be learned from the Irish move? … The bottom line in the Irish experiment is how effectively the ban can be enforced … Paradoxically, anti-smoking legislation will only work if it is voluntarily accepted by the vast majority of the electorate … recent polls in Ireland have implied that there is a big majority in favour of the move …

However, it is likely that the real test … will primarily be economic. Will Dublin's pubs and restaurants empty? … Alternatively, will more folk enjoy an evening out in the Irish capital where the craic and the Guinness will be just as good despite the lack of tobacco fug? The evidence from New York, where a similar ban came in last year, is hotly disputed. The Dublin case-study will help resolve the matter. If the public-smoking ban hobbles the Irish tourist industry, legislators in the rest of Europe may be disinclined to follow.

From these excerpts you will see that the introduction of the new law was generally welcomed, even by those newspapers which identified practical and economic problems with the ban. Only the Daily Telegraph was critical as a matter of principle, arguing that the law was an assault on civil liberties. The important lesson to draw from these editorials is that the introduction of a new rule, especially one which has a direct impact on existing social customs (such as smoking in a pub), will provoke strong reactions. This is because the introduction of a new law is an integral part of the political process. Although it is sometimes tempting to think of rules, especially legal rules, as somehow neutral, they are more often than not the result of hotly disputed contests about the right way to regulate social life.


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