All change in the smoking zone

Attractive smoking areas outside pubs and clubs are actually encouraging the habit, according to smokers

Kate Holmquist talks to smokers ten years after the ban to see how attitudes are changing.


Stand around with a group of smokers and you’ll soon hear some version of: “It’s disgusting. I want to quit. I could take a luxury holiday with the money I spend.” Eight out of 10 smokers in Ireland want to quit, four in 10 try in any given year and, of those who try, half succeed after the second attempt, according to the HSE.

Yet despite the general success of the smoking ban, the habit persists, especially in certain age groups. There was a rise in smoking among 15- to 17-year-olds in 2013, to 13 per cent. Smoking is most common among young adults, reaching 31 per cent in the 18-24 age group and 28 per cent among 25- to 34-year-olds.

“We pick where we go in the evenings based on how good the smoking areas are,” says Dominique McMullan, a 26-year-old who started smoking around the time the ban was introduced, in March 2004. “In smoking areas there’s heating, lots of space, good seating, music and bars. Smoking areas are comfy and cosy. The smokers are the fun people, and the smoking areas are the best places in pubs now – often bigger than the inside parts,” she says. “The smoking ban doesn’t discourage smoking. If anything it encourages it.”

As addictive as crack cocaine
The psychology of smoking and addiction is complex, and negative messages and restrictions can have the opposite effect of what’s intended. Michael Gormley, who lectures in the school of psychology at Trinity College Dublin, says smoking is “easily as addictive as crack cocaine” and that anti-smoking health messages have little effect.

“Our data clearly indicates smokers are fully aware of the negative connotations of smoking, but because it’s such a strong addiction they can’t change their behaviour.”

He agrees that, as McMullan says, the ban itself can influence smokers’ behaviour in unintended ways. Gormley says that once smokers are isolated as a group, they become more entrenched, creating a them-and-us dynamic. In this sense the evolution of smoking areas outside pubs and clubs in the past 10 years has created places where positive smoking messages exist.

Many publicans have invested heavily in appealing smoking areas. Jenny Headen of the Workmans Club music venue, on Dublin’s quays, points out that many nonsmokers choose to use smoking areas, either because their friends smoke or because they like the outdoor atmosphere. “There is definitely an even split of smokers and nonsmokers in the smoking area,” she says.

On Fade Street, in the middle of Dublin, smoking areas are intrinsic to the design of the Kellys Hotel and l’Gueuleton restaurant complex, subject of our related video report. The upstairs Bar With No Name features an upstairs patio covered by circus tents and powerful heaters.

In the pub trade today “a good smoking area is an imperative”, says Padraig Cribben, head of the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland, but they also cause difficulties for publicans, he says. (This week the Market Bar, owned by Jay Bourke and John Reynolds, and also on Fade Street, was fined €750 after a HSE inspection for breaking the smoking ban.)

“The purpose and spirit of the legislation was to ensure that no ill effects should be visited on others from passive smoking and to forbid smoking in enclosed places of work,” Cribben says. “That hardly needs the ‘smoking police’ visiting pubs with set squares and measuring tapes. It should be possible to come up with a more workable solution. The legislation is now 10 years old. Like all legislation, the operation of it needs to be reviewed.”

But the attractive smoking sections and the smoker’s denial instincts can’t kill the will to quit. On January 2nd two women in their early 30s did just that as “quitting buddies”, texting each other for support in weak moments.

Cora-Jane Wynne did three sessions of hypnosis at €80 each, the cost of a month’s cigarettes. “I was sceptical initially about hypnosis, and I was afraid of the cravings, having smoked for 18 years, but it’s been very successful so far,” she says.

When she smoked she “thoroughly enjoyed my cigarettes; the smoking ban did not deter me at all. Everybody knows the smoking area is the best place to hang out.”

But the TV campaign featuring the terminal lung-cancer patient Gerry Collins, who has since died, affected her deeply. Since quitting she no longer moves around pubs or clubs and instead sits in one spot, trying to avoid the smoking area. “I’m convinced the hypnosis helped me. It gave me a safe place in my head,” she says.

“I loved smoking,” says her quitting buddy, Thyrza Ging. “I smoked as many as I could get.” Quitting on January 2nd was Ging’s third attempt – and so far so good. Her secret: carrying around a bottle of water that she sips from every time she wants a cigarette. A free app has also helped.

Ten weeks later she is glad she has given up smoking. “One thing I have noticed is that my finger nails are amazing – really smooth and soft and growing long. Everyone says I look less grey, which I interpret to mean healthier.”

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