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Luck of the Irish: Tobacco, Industry Blunders & Guiness


Shout-out to Ireland: On 29 March 2004, Ireland became the first country in the world to implement legislation creating smoke-free enclosed workplaces that included bars and restaurants.

Not covered in this story and probably never anywhere else, is an account of how a major strategic blunder by the UK tobacco industry contributed to the passing of this legislation. The story was told by the National Minister of Health for Ireland at the time to a group of us attending a tobacco control conference in Toronto. Quite appropriately, he told us the epic saga while we were enjoying a pint of Guinness at an Irish pub. Perhaps I will share the story in a future blog entry.

Enjoy a Guinness in a smoke-free pub and toast the early adopters !


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RE: Luck of the Irish: Tobacco, Industry Blunders & Guiness
17/03/16 1:47 PM as a reply to mikedevillaer.

Wow! What a great example of positive health legislation! Thanks Mike! 

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RE: Luck of the Irish: Tobacco, Industry Blunders & Guiness
18/03/16 8:06 PM as a reply to mikedevillaer.

Smoke-free Ireland, the big blunder, and Guinness

Thanks for the ‘likes’ and encouragement (from EENet & Portico) to tell the remainder of the Irish smoke-free story. (Like Loblaws, I listen. Well, maybe not exactly like Loblaws.) The necessary caution is that I am relating a story that I heard over a decade ago - while drinking in a pub. I did not take notes – not even on a soggy napkin. I’m flying on the fumes of memory here. While the details may have faded and possibly even distorted with the passage of time, I am confident that the broad strokes of the story are intact.

The Irish government, the Irish tobacco industry representatives, and Irish public health authorities were entering the final stages of negotiations that would determine whether Ireland would be the first country to go smoke-free in all indoor spaces, including bars and restaurants. The representatives from the health authorities were not confident in their chances. Actually, they expected the worst. And then an astounding thing happened. Inexplicably, the executives from the head offices of the tobacco companies (in England!), made the decision to pull the local Irish negotiators out of the meetings, and finish the fine strokes them-selves. This was not known by anyone else until the suits from England walked into the meeting in Ireland. This was done apparently completely indifferent to the long-standing profound tensions between the English and Irish governments that were still very much in play. As soon as the Irish health authority representatives saw the English tobacco executives walk into the room, they knew they had won. The remaining negotiations would be irrelevant.  

While we may have good cause to question the ethics of the international tobacco industry, they have proven themselves to be shrewd and intelligent strategists over the years. This unthinkable blunder remains, in my opinion, one of the great mysteries in the history of public health. 

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