The call to ban smoking outside pubs and cafes in Northern Ireland to make them more family-friendly should be welcomed. Campaigners hope that the ban, if it is implemented, could help our high streets and - in particular - the hospitality and "night economy' sector to recover from the long lockdown.
Not surprisingly, smokers will complain that they are as usual the most put-upon element of our society, and are still being hounded from pillar to post because their habit has fallen foul of medical opinion and of changing lifestyles. However, while smokers have every right to ignore the undisputed medical evidence about smoking causing cancer, if they choose to do so, they cannot impose their collective and individual recklessness on everyone else.
All public spaces, including bars, restaurants and cafes, have benefited from the introduction of the smoking ban in the early years of this century, and as a means of social engineering, the positive results are unchallengeable.
The health outcomes since the smoking ban was implemented have been improved and for many years people have been able to frequent these public spaces without ending up smelling like an ashtray. The scenes of smoking in movies and television programmes now seem distinctly anachronistic.
Time has shown that the bars and cafes have survived the introduction of the smoking ban, despite the grim predictions from publicans and café-owners that this would sound the death-knell of their businesses. However, the continuing Covid-19 crisis is posing a threat which is on an altogether more existential scale in our still fragile post-lockdown recovery, and cafes and bars will undoubtedly prove to be more attractive to people with children if their entrances and exits are not blocked by smokers, as is currently happening in many places.
If the survival of our hospitality sector depends on what is not much more than an inconvenience for the smoking minority, that will indeed be a price worth paying.