LONDON (Reuters) - Smokers in Northern Ireland risk a 50 pound fine if they light up in pubs, offices and other indoor public places after a smoking ban came into force on Monday.
Businesses can be fined up to 2,500 pounds if they fail to enforce the ban, which spreads to England from July 1. Scotland, Wales and the republic of Ireland have already outlawed smoking in many public places.
Ministers say the ban has overwhelming public support and could save hundreds of lives each year, but opponents called it draconian and do not believe it will improve the nation’s health.
“People do not want to breathe in other people’s smoke,” said Health Minister Paul Goggins. “By reducing our level of exposure, this legislation will improve health and save lives.”
The ban covers taxis, public transport, shopping centres, hospitals and many other public places.
Businesses will have to display “no smoking” signs and dozens of council officials will enforce the ban.
Hundreds of portable plastic ashtrays have been handed out to encourage people not to discard cigarette ends in the street.
Belfast City Council said smokers could be fined 50 pounds for littering if they drop a butt on the pavement.
Some pub owners have built patios with gas heaters to allow smokers to have a cigarette outside. One chain reportedly offered hypnotherapy sessions to help customers quit.
About nine out of 10 people in Northern Ireland support the ban, according to a survey of 70,000 people.
The Ulster Cancer Foundation welcomed the ban, but said more action was needed to persuade people to kick the habit.
“Going smokefree is a platform for further action,” said Gerry McElwee, the charity’s head of cancer prevention. “This is only the first step to improving the health of local people.”
Forest, the smokers’ rights campaign group, said the ban would do little to encourage people to give up smoking.
“The ban makes Northern Ireland a less liberal, more intolerant place,” said the group’s director Simon Clark. “Tobacco is a legal product and it is very sad that there is not a single pub, club or bar in the country where anyone can light up without being fined.”