Religious sector escapes smoking ban


Hospitality industry lobby group calls for 'realistic compromise' for pubsand restaurants. Carl O'Brien reports.

The Government's smoking ban will not apply to many convents or religious institutions under the Minister for Health's final list of exemptions.

The list of sectors which will not have to comply with the ban was sent to the European Commission last week and includes premises where "a majority of the persons maintained are members of a religious order, or priests or clergy of any religion".

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said this line had been inserted in the regulations to ensure nursing homes of all types will be covered by the legislation.

The ban will outlaw smoking in the workplace. However, the Minister has announced a range of exemptions including hotel and guesthouse bedrooms, psychiatric hospitals, student residences, hostels for homeless, nursing homes, hospices, prisons, outdoor places and the Central Mental Hospital.

The Irish Hospitality Industry Alliance, which is lobbying for a compromise to the ban, yesterday called for similar exemptions for pubs and restaurants.

"These exemptions raise the question of why there can't be a realistic compromise for the hospitality sector, when we have a ban which was not meant to have any exemptions in the first place," an IHIA spokesman said.

It has also emerged that just 40 environmental health officers will be available to help implement the smoking ban.

Department of Health sources have confirmed that it is seeking to extend the role of officers attached to health boards to help with the implementation of the ban. Negotiations are continuing although no specific provision was contained in last week's Estimates for extra resources.

A Department spokeswoman defended the number of environmental health officers appointed to police the ban and pointed out that similar bans in Boston and New York are enforced by a smaller amount of staff.

The ban is due to be implemented at the end of February, once a three-month period allowing EU member states to raise objections to the plan expires. However, attempts to secure the enforcement of the ban have run into legal difficulties which threaten to delay full enforcement.

Department of Health officials want tobacco smoke to be officially labelled as a carcinogen, which would allow health and safety officials to also enforce the ban. However, the Department has received legal advice that relevant legislation - the Health and Safety Act (1989) - would not allow for the banning of tobacco smoke in the workplace

A review of the Health and Safety Act is currently underway which will include provision for the banning of tobacco smoke.

While the heads of this new bill have been issued, they will have to be amended and it is unclear how long it will take to pass through the Oireachtas.

Department of Health officials, however, hope that HSA officials will be able to conduct their work under the Department's separate legislation. This is still being examined by legal experts.