Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Final puffs in the pub and great debate remains a burning issue

In the final hours before the smoking ban, Ben Lowry mingled with pub-goers in Belfast to hear their views on the new law

Smokers were taking their last legal cigarettes inside bars and restaurants in Northern Ireland last night - but many of them welcomed the imminent end of smoking in such circumstances.

At a window seat in Belfast's Apartment Bar overlooking the sunlit City Hall, Carron Cargo (31) from Finaghy dragged on a cigarette, but said that she was perfectly happy with the ban.

"I am probably a social smoker and I will not even be thinking of taking cigarettes at the weekend after the ban comes in. It is going to be quite pleasant going out on a Saturday night and coming home without smelling of smoke."

Sitting a few seats away, an opponent of the ban Michael Dillon from Ballymena, who is in his 20s, claimed the ban had a sinister historical parallel.

"I read recently that the Nazis banned smoking when they came to power, which speaks for itself. I think in some of the posters they said smoking was only done by Jews and Gypsies."

Egidiya Staskeviciute, a 24-year-old Lithuanian woman who has moved to Northern Ireland, welcomed the ban, adding that her home country was also moving in an anti-smoking direction.

"It is better for all people," the shop assistant said. " Sometimes I am in a bar at night and there is so much smoke. After a couple of hours your eyes are getting very tired."

At a booth in the Crown Bar, non-smoking tourists John and Angela Thomas from Farnham in Surrey discussed the ban with two smokers they had just met, Don McCaughan and Pepsi McAuley from Ballycastle.

Pepsi said: "We wanted somewhere to sit and we asked if we could join them in the booth, and if they minded us smoking, and they said they did not. "

John said that he would prefer it if there was no smoking in bars but he was "not dogmatic about it".

Angela was more outspoken in favour of a ban.

"I was a nurse for 25 years in a hospice and I feel that anything that makes cancer more likely should be avoided," she said.

Don agreed with Angela, despite having a lit cigarette in his hand.

"If you have to go out for a cigarette, you will smoke less," he said. "And when you do go out, it will be like speed dating with cigarettes - a great way to meet people."

But Pepsi was strongly opposed to the new restriction on smoking.

"I have known people who have smoked and lived until their 80s and 90s. And I had a grandmother who didn't go out to bars or drink or smoke yet died of lung cancer."

Standing at the bar with cigarette and pint, Paddy Barnes from the New Lodge Road in North Belfast said that he smoked "all day long" but he would still respect the ban. "I would like to smoke in the bar but if you are not allowed I will smoke outside," he said.

Also smoking at the bar last night were Narcis Bernadi (30) and Anna Tabbegas (26), from Catalonia, who are on holiday in Northern Ireland.

"It is discriminating against smokers", Narcis said of the ban. " But we have to conform to the law."

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