Workplace smoking to be banned in Northern Ireland in April 2007

Smoking in enclosed workplaces, including pubs, will be outlawed in Northern Ireland in April 2007, the British government announced Monday in a move inspired by a 19-month-old ban in the Republic of Ireland.

Shaun Woodward, the health minister in Britain's Northern Ireland Office, announced the move following several months of public consultation that indicated overwhelming public backing for the ban.

He said the April 2007 delay would allow for maximum discussion with pub and restaurant owners, local politicians and other interest groups on how to draft the law.

About 26 percent of adults smoke in this corner of the United Kingdom. But Woodward said feedback indicated that 91 percent of people want a total ban on smoking in enclosed public places, while just 9 percent wanted to retain indoor smoking sections.

The March 28, 2004, ban in the Irish Republic - the first country to impose such restrictions - has proved extremely popular and widely observed. Pub owners' warnings of lost business and closures have largely failed to materialize, while locals and tourists alike have lauded the smoke-free pub atmosphere, as well as the growing development of outdoor, heated terraces for smokers.

Scotland has already unveiled plans to impose a ban on workplace smoking in April 2006. In England and Wales, the British government has kept open the possibility of retaining smoking areas in restaurants and pubs.

But Woodward argued it would be unfair to ban smoking in some workplaces, but not others. He noted that the Northern Ireland Civil Service - the largest employer in this territory of 1.7 million people - in January banned smoking in its offices. A.M.

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