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Smoking Ban Collapses
By Nicholas Tine
1, Apr 2004 - 01:04

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Smoking ban a total failure in Castlebar.

Herbal or Tobacco? It's hard to tell in the dark, smokey, atmosphere
Herbal or Tobacco? It's hard to tell in the dark, smokey, atmosphere.

Ashtrays are still needed for 
herbal cigarettes
Ashtrays are still needed for herbal cigarettes

Smoke gets in your eyes
Smoke gets in your eyes

Blatant disregard
Blatant disregard

Happy Herbalists?

Photos by Peter Jordan

Publicans and Inspectors agree to call it a day. 

A mere three days into the new no-smoking regulations the smoking ban in pubs is declared a non-starter here in Castlebar, Co. Mayo. Tobacco inspectors have came to an amicable agreement with local publicans; agreeing to call it a day and give up on trying to enforce the ban as it stands at present.

This is the result of a clever ruse which exploits a loophole in the legislation. The ban had been widely felt to be unenforceable by publicans and Castlebar smokers have now reinforced, if not confirmed, this view. It's back to the drawing board for the legislators.

The herbal cigarette loophole has succeeded in running rings around the ban in Castlebar. Tobacco inspectors on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday night went from pub to pub to be greeted by noxious-smelling clouds of smoke.

They discovered that most of the smoke, however, was coming from herbal cigarettes rather than real tobacco. Herbal cigarettes which had been lit and prominently displayed by smokers (see photographs) or left smouldering on ashtrays bar counters and tables. Inspectors were convinced, however,  that the herbal cigarettes were being used to mask the use of real tobacco products. But in the cloudy atmosphere, and with the suspiciously dim light levels in the Castlebar pubs inspected, no ignited tobacco products were found in spite of all the fumes. Inspectors were fuming themselves after a third night of unsuccessful inspections on Wednesday.

It is not sufficient under the regulations to find recently stubbed out butts on the floor according to one very frustrated tobacco inspector. The person must be observed actually smoking tobacco products to be prosecuted. People were apparently smoking herbal cigarettes when the inspectors arrived so no prosecutions could be taken. Similarly, pub staff themselves said they were unable to distinguish between herbal and real tobacco cigarettes even when customers were standing right in front of them smoking.

The Herbal Loophole

The pungent smoke and tar from the so-called herbal cigarettes is much more intense than that from regular tobacco. The smell was described as 'appalling' by tobacco inspector Imelda Considine from Balla and as 'gut-wrenching' by non-smoker James Murphy as he beat a hasty retreat from Cox's.

Smokers are lighting up herbal cigarettes and leaving them to smoulder in ash trays on bar tables and counters in what appears to be an organised attempt to undermine the Minister's new regulations. Publicans claim they are powerless. The pungent smell, resembling old socks, has driven regular customers from the pubs.

The many non-smokers from Castlebar who had been looking forward to being able to go out and have a pint in a smoke-free zone are avoiding pubs like the plaque due to the smell. The smell has to be experienced to be believed. 'Much worse than tobacco' said one disgruntled drinker from Milebush. 'It's just as well it's Lent' commented another who wished to remain anonymous 'I couldn't drink in a pub with that smell'.

Vending machine owners are delighted with the response to their products in Castlebar. In fact Castlebar had been lined up for some months as a test bed for this subversion of the tobacco ban. It now seems likely that other towns will quickly follow suit.

Last Gasp for Regulations

Observers feel that the ban is already on its last gasp even before the end of the first week. Hearing about the Castlebar situation politicians have already taken advantage of the developing situation and TDs like John Deasy of FG are lighting up even in the Dáil Bar contempt of the new regulations. New revised legislation is now required. However, a spokesman for the Department of Health speaking from Marlboro Street said that it would take at least another three months before revised Regulations could be drafted and approved by Brussels. This is indeed a disappointment for Minister Martin's aspiration to be Taoiseach after Bertie Ahern. The Irish smoking regulations had made world headlines even reaching CNN and the New York Times. Castlebar smokers in collusion with herbal cigarette vending machine owners have put an end to the ban. Not since Lord Lucan disappeared has Castlebar achieved such notoriety.

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