It has been 20 years since the government introduced the Public Health (Tobacco) Act banning smoking in all workplaces, bars and restaurants.

  • Smoking rates down from 27% in 2004 to 18% in 2023
  • 74 countries have followed Ireland’s example and banned smoking indoors.
  • Since 2004, smoking in Ireland has reduced from 27% to 18%.

It has been 20 years since the government introduced the Public Health (Tobacco) Act banning smoking in all workplaces, bars and restaurants. 800,000 people have stopped smoking in that time, saving countless lives in the process.

On 29 March 2004 Ireland became the first country in the world to remove ashtrays from work desks as well as pub and restaurant tables. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), over one quarter of the world’s population – 74 nations – now live in countries with complete smoking bans in indoor public places, workplaces and public transport.

Fines for breaking the smoking ban are set at €3,000 and the HSE National Environmental Health Service continues to enforce these measures. A key aspect of their work today is in relation to the sale of tobacco to minors. The HSE undertakes compliance checks, also known as test purchases, in retail outlets to determine if retailers will sell tobacco products to minors. This has helped to contribute to a reduction of smoking rates among children, reducing from 19% in 2004 to 5% today.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin said: “This Friday marks twenty years since the introduction of the workplace smoking ban – one of the most important and memorable days in my political career. While it was viewed as a controversial measure at the time and faced stiff opposition, the positive impact that the smoking ban has had on public health in Ireland is clear. Over the past two decades, smoking rates have reduced significantly – particularly among children. Hundreds of thousands of people have given up smoking since 2004.

“We have continued to push ahead with measures to combat smoking because, simply, there is nothing good about this habit. It is addictive, it is lethal and I have yet to meet a smoker who is happy that they started.

“Twenty years on from the introduction of the smoking ban, we now face new, worrying challenges posed by vaping. Minister Donnelly has taken important steps to ban the sale of vapes to children and is examining further measures to address these challenges.

“As we mark this anniversary, we remain focused on measures that put the health of our population first, that protect future generations and that will bring closer to our goal of a tobacco-free Ireland.”

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said: “I am proud to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the workplace smoking ban. It was a landmark and courageous public health initiative that has saved lives. My Department continues to introduce evidence-based policy measures to reduce the considerable health impact of an addiction that has the most detrimental impact on the health of our population. Nicotine is a highly addictive drug.

“It takes courage and commitment to stop smoking and I congratulate every smoker that takes that first step toward a healthier life for themselves and those around them. Smokers do not need to go it alone. The HSE Quit service is there to provide advice and support.

“In Budget 2023 we removed VAT from all Nicotine Replacement Therapies to make them more affordable and in Budget 2024 I secured €1.1 million additional funding for the HSE Quit program to bring its total funding to €1.8 million. Today is a day to celebrate our past achievements and to look forward to reaching our goal of a tobacco free Ireland, where the disease, disability and death caused by tobacco consumption is a thing of the past.”

According to Martina Blake, the HSE’s lead for the HSE Health & Wellbeing Tobacco-Free Ireland programme: “Smoking rates have reduced considerably over the last twenty years thanks to this significant piece of tobacco control legislation and other legislative measures.  The investment in mass media campaigns, stop smoking services and more recently the introduction of free stop smoking medication are really welcome developments. I am worried however that since COVID we have seen a complete stall and even a slight rise in smoking prevalence therefore new and innovative policies will be required to truly realise the government’s goal of a tobacco free Ireland.

“The HSE Tobacco Free Ireland Programme carried out a public opinion survey to ascertain views on Tobacco Endgame policies in Ireland with majority public support (50% or greater) for the proposed policies. These proposals included the phasing out of tobacco sales to children, reducing nicotine in tobacco to make it less addictive and requiring tobacco companies to pay the state for the health costs due to the harm caused by tobacco products.”

Quit supports available

HSE Quit services are free and available all year round. The Quit service provides personalised, evidence-based plans, tailored to each person’s needs, using any combination of the support options:

Top tips for quitting smoking successfully

  1. Don’t go it alone. HSE Quit is there to help you take this step with simple, practical and effective help, maximising the chance of staying quit for good. Staff will provide non-judgemental support and encouragement.
  2. Focus on the goal to stay smoke-free for one day at a time until 28 days. Once people get to that goal, they are up to 5 times more likely to stay quit for good.
  3. Use stop-smoking medicine, like NRT. This is a safe, effective and a clinically sound way of getting through the first 28 days and beyond, and will really help in dealing with cravings.