Belfast Telegraph

Opportunity to break the habit

By Edwin McFee

The smoking ban kicks in tomorrow and whether you like it or not it can only do us good, say the experts

From tomorrow morning workers in Northern Ireland pubs and restaurants can breathe a little easier as the much debated smoking ban comes into effect.

It might be a move that has left many smokers fuming, but Government officials insist it's for the health and safety of everyone.

Following suit from several European countries and parts of the USA, the smoking ban outlaws lighting up in any indoor public area such as the cinema or a night club, so if you fancy a sneaky fag from tomorrow onwards pay heed to where you do it, because if you're puffing away in a banned area it could mean a £50 on-the-spot fine.

But it's not just smokers who face hefty fines for the tobacco habit - owners of public places such as bars and bistros could face a £2,500 fine if they fail to implement the law and they'll also be charged a £200 fine if they fail to display no-smoking signs.

Former Northern Ireland Health Minister Shaun Woodward, an ex-smoker himself, first announced plans for the ban late last year. Commenting at the time, Mr Woodward said: "No-one has a right to subject colleagues and workmates to the dangers and hazards of second-hand smoke and passive smoking. No-one has a right to subject members of the public who do not smoke to those same dangers in enclosed public spaces."

Keen to do his research on the controversial subject matter, Mr Woodward visited Dublin and New York to gauge how successful the ban has been in those areas over the summer. An independent survey was also carried out and showed that 91pc of those questioned were in favour of a total ban.

At the moment, both Scotland and Wales are currently enjoying a smoke-free life with England set to ban public puffing in July.

Among those coming out in support of the legislation is Deborah Arnott, director of ASH (Action on Smoking and Health). Speaking of the ban she said: "This is the most important advance for public health in Northern Ireland for 30 years. Non-smokers will be protected from the health damage caused by second-hand smoke and many smokers in the province will be prompted to give up."

For those of us who are finding it hard to give up cigarettes, the all-out ban will act as a positive incentive to finally kick the habit.

The harmful effects of smoking are staggering.

Anti-smoking website lists some rather eye-opening statistics, but here are just a few to give some food for thought.

Every year hundreds of thousands of people around the world die from diseases caused by smoking. One in two lifetime smokers will die from the habit and half of these deaths will occur in middle age. Men who smoke are 10 times more likely to die from lung cancer than non-smokers.

Heart disease and strokes are also more common among smokers than non-smokers.

In younger people, three out of four deaths from heart disease are due to smoking.

The list of harmful effects goes on, but it's not just smokers who are at risk. Passive smoking (also known as environmental tobacco smoke, involuntary smoking or second-hand smoke) is also a large contributor to bad health.

One recent study in the British Medical Journal found that exposure to second-hand smoke increases the risk of heart disease among non-smokers by as much as 60pc.

Passive smoking is also especially risky for children and babies and can cause low birth weight babies, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), bronchitis, pneumonia, and middle ear infections.

So where does this leave Ulster's smokers? In a 2005 survey taken as part of the UK's no smoking day, it found 31pc of adults (from age 16 and upwards) were smokers and 71pc of those wanted to give up.

But it's not all doom and gloom, as the survey has found that quit attempts in Northern Ireland were the highest among the 16-24 age group and that Ulster women were more likely to stop smoking than men.

So will tomorrow's smoking ban help those looking to quit? Northern Ireland's Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride certainly thinks so.

In a statement he said: "This legislation will save lives. It will significantly reduce our exposure to the toxic effects of second hand smoke.

"Experiences elsewhere have shown that, as a result of the legislation, the air quality in many enclosed places has greatly improved.

"Smoking cessation rates have also increased.

"Early indications in Northern Ireland show that more people than ever are trying to quit. If the legislation has given some people that extra incentive that they needed, then that can only be a good thing.

"I truly believe that these effects will continue for generations to come. The simple fact that children will not be bombarded with images of people smoking around them in public, will mean that they may be less tempted to take up the habit themselves."

Gerry McElwee, head of cancer prevention for the Ulster Cancer Foundation also welcomed tomorrow's ban.

"The Ulster Cancer Foundation is absolutely delighted with the up-coming legislation," he said.

"We've been campaigning for this to happen for 25 years now and I think it has the potential to greatly improve people's health. For too long workers have had to breathe in second-hand smoke and now they will be protected. Around 2800 people die every year in Northern Ireland from smoking-related diseases and tobacco smoke causes a third of all cancers, so we see this legislation as a stepping stone to help people who want to quit and have a smoke-free life."

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