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The last gasp of public smoking in Ireland, France, Romania

January 2008 —

In the news while I was in Romania....

France imposed a ban on the smoking of tobacco in bars, restaurants, and casinos.

Ireland was the first nation to ban smoking in such public places. The law in Ireland as of March 2004 is that smoking is illegal within enclosed workplaces. The likes of a nursing home is exempt because it is also a residence. On the other hand, the cab of a delivery truck is not exempt — because it is an enclosed workplace.

Most people thought that the Irish smoking ban would be accepted in principal with grumbling and moaning, and without full compliance. But in reality, the Irish have conformed — with grumbling and moaning.

Ireland followed the American state of New York, which in 2003 followed the state of California (1998.) In 1975, the state of Minnesota had required restaurants to provide a non-smoking section.

In Romania, where I was the day France introduced their ban, smoking is normal and tolerated in most public places. A hospitality business must provide a smoke-free area, but many places get by with less-than-extravagant compliance.

The trains are entirely smoke-free — theoretically. You'll often smell fresh cigarette smoke in a Romanian train, as a passenger who's ready to deboard opens the door on approach to station, blowing the fumes outside — mostly outside. People look, to see who's smoking — seemingly in mild disapproval.

In pubs and restaurants, however, cigarette smoke is a normal part of the atmosphere. Many establishments have a non-smoker's room. It seems almost universally unused, and is sometimes unusable — which is not to mention the fact that few people or groups of people will want to separate themselves from the crowd, in one small room. The non-smoker's room is sometimes used for the provisional storage of empty crates and boxes; or an employee coatrack.

Some places do not have a separate room, but merely a nonsmoker's area — a table or a section of the bar counter, where there may or may not be an ashtray.