Viewpoint: A breath of fresh air for everyone
The case for a ban on smoking in public places is so compelling that the only surprise is that it has taken so long to become law in Northern Ireland. But the day has dawned and from 6am today, lighting up in public places became illegal.
Everyone hopes that the transition will happen here as easily as was the case in the Republic. Despite the gravest of warnings, the ban which was introduced there in 2004 was quickly and universally accepted. The sole pub that was taken to court for defying the ban was fined £6,400.
Although 40 enforcement officers were appointed in the Republic, the new measure has in fact been regulated largely by peer pressure. Smokers who want to have a cigarette now know the form and habitually head out into the fresh air.
The Vintners Federation blamed the ban for a reduction in turnover in the pubs, and said it was a factor in the closure of a number of rural hostelries. But the Office of Tobacco Control maintains that bar retail sales have actually increased, as customers savoured the new atmosphere.
Ironically, the restriction has been welcomed by many smokers who found it helped them cut down on cigarettes. Some use it as the lever they needed to stop smoking altogether.
In Northern Ireland, there will be misgivings as to the effectiveness of the ban, particularly as enforcement officers have yet to be appointed. But environmental health officers will be monitoring workplaces, pubs, restaurants and hotels.
The biggest gain, though, should be to the state of people's health. The link between smoking and cancer has been proved beyond doubt, and cigarettes are also blamed for an increased incidence of heart disease, bronchitis and strokes.
Passive smoking is known to pose a health risk and this measure should provide protection for customers and staff in bars and restaurants. People still have a right to smoke, but only in places in which their habit will not have a negative impact on the health of others.
The fact that not just the Republic, but other countries such as Italy, Scotland and Wales have now banned smoking in public places will make this switch easier in Northern Ireland. From being the norm, smoking is being increasingly recognised as an anti-social activity.
Now that the law has taken effect, staff and customers in bars and restaurants should have no hesitation in requesting that smokers desist. If a polite plea does not work, then there is always a hotline which can be phoned.
Various penalties will apply to employers and individuals who ignore the new measure, but everyone will be hoping that prosecutions are not necessary. Carrot is always more effective than stick and the prospect of improved health should surely inspire smokers and non-smokers alike.
Ulster's new prosperity
Northern Ireland's rich are getting richer. And their increasing prosperity should augur well for all of us.
The publication of the Sunday Times Rich List every year used to hold no great interest for observers in the province.
We had very few people in the top 100, and their wealth, whilst immense to ordinary people, was of no great importance by UK or even Irish standards. We had no real high-profile names on the list, and we certainly had no billionaires.
However, in recent years, all this has changed. Fermanagh entrepreneur Sean Quinn is now judged to be the second wealthiest man in Ireland with an estimated fortune of £3.05 billion - a stunning achievement.
Property developers Kevin and Michael Lagan are the next wealthiest people in the province, falling just short of billionaire status with an estimated worth of £928 million.
Another example of a man who has been able to massively grow his personal income is former F1 driver Eddie Irvine, now reckoned to be worth £160 million.
There are political dimensions to all of this, too. These are that Northern Ireland is becoming increasingly prosperous and is increasingly seen as a great place to do business. Long may both continue.