The Royal College of Physicians of Ireland’s (RCPI) Policy Group on Tobacco calls on the Government to make all outdoor areas in bars non-smoking zones when they reopen.
Prof Des Cox, Chair of the Policy Group on Tobacco at RCPI, has sent a letter to Minister Simon Harris at the Department of Health calling for this proposal to be implemented as part of the country’s reopening strategy.
Prof Des Cox said: “While we acknowledge the need for a phased reopening of the economy as outlined by the Government, our group request that all outdoor areas in bars become non-smoking zones when they reopen to maintain social distancing recommendations and to protect the general public and hospitality staff.
“On the back of the recently published Government roadmap for reopening services across Ireland, we understand that plans for how public houses will run their services are currently being discussed. We understand that the Department of Health are in dialogue with the Licensed Vintners’ Association (LVA) and Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI) about how and when the public houses will reopen.”
He stated: “Currently the outdoor areas of the majority of public houses are designated smoking areas. If outdoor areas are to be used to facilitate social distancing when bars open up again, then smoking should be prohibited from all areas of all pubs when they reopen.
“Customers who are seated in the outdoor areas of bars should not be exposed to secondhand smoke. If bar staff are providing table service to all customers – including customers seated in the outdoor areas – they too will be exposed to secondhand smoke. There is no risk-free level of secondhand smoke and we need to protect the general public and in particular bar staff from the well-recognised health implications of secondhand smoke.”
Prof Cox said: “The latest evidence suggests that smokers are likely to be more vulnerable to COVID-19 infection. In addition, the very act of smoking involves fingers touching lips, which increases the possibility of virus transmission. For these reasons alone, smoking in any setting during the COVID-19 pandemic should be strongly discouraged.”
He concluded: “While we welcome the reopening plan for Ireland and support businesses in their proposals to change their working conditions to protect public health, we ask that the Department of Health does not inadvertently allow for another public health crisis to develop as a consequence of implementing social distancing policies.”
Smoking is still the biggest public health issue in Ireland. The Healthy Ireland Survey 2019 reported that 17 per cent of the Irish population are current smokers. Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in Ireland, with almost 6,000 smokers dying each year from tobacco related diseases.