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Wednesday, February 16, 2005

More smoking stuff

The smoking in public places sub-committee spent today ensconced in a Dublin Hotel taking evidence from a range of Irish Government agencies on the ban they have implemented here. This was preceded by an early morning flight from Cork to the capital City.

Some useful statistics were offered that provided a counterweight to the evidence offered by the Licensed Vintners yesterday. We were told that pub sales in Ireland peaked around about 2001 and that there has been a downward trend ever since, regardless of the smoking ban. That trend did not change because a workplace ban was put in place. We were also told that tobacco sales had declined by 10% in 2003 and by 16% in 2004 and that the number of people in the Republic who smoke was also falling. In the last tax year there was a drop of 100 million Euros in tax revenues from tobacco.

We were anxious to discuss the economic impact of the ban but what was becoming clear was that there were other factors involved in the closure of pubs and job losses. In many instances, we were told, the hospitality industry had failed to adapt to people’s expectations and that drink prices in pubs are substantially more expensive that off-license prices. Clearly we are going to have to do a fair amount of research to verify the contradictory statements that witnesses have given to us.

One thing that was said to us today rang true. That is that the main factor that influences expenditure in the hospitality industry is the level of disposable income available to customers. Other factors such as smoking bans are secondary to this and are by no means as significant. The other interesting feature of the visit was the way that, having finally accepted the ban, Dublin pub landlords sought to make the most of it. They organised an advertising campaign with the slogan:

"The atmosphere has just got better here – Dublin pubs, the best in the world."
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