Just back from Ireland - a fleeting visit to Cork and a couple of days in and around Dublin. Here are some observations:
Unlike the UK, where people continue to voice their disapproval, no-one is talking about the smoking ban. And that includes smokers, unless visitors like me ask them for their opinions.
In Cork I met one of the country's few smokers' rights campaigners and he admitted as much. A few hours later the cabbie who drove me from Heuston station to Delgany in Co Wicklow told me that being forced to smoke outside doesn't bother him and I believed him because I've met others who feel the same way. It doesn't mean he wouldn't support a choice of smoking and non-smoking facilities indoors, if it was offered to him, but he don't feel strongly enough to campaign for change.
My driver did however draw the line at further restrictions and I know this because as we were driving south through the Dublin traffic a news item came on the radio. Health officials, it was reported, want to ban smoking in the grounds of a hospital in Cork.
The programme then interviewed a woman who supports the idea. Unchallenged, she claimed that a friend of hers had lost a leg "because of passive smoking". I almost choked on my extra strong mint and I was tempted to call the station myself. Instead, I had a long discussion with my driver who agreed that banning smoking outside is pointless and pathetic.
Interestingly, it does seem that the authorities are enforcing the law less rigorously than when it was first introduced in 2004, and people are finding ways round it.
For example, the taxi driver told me that he has no problem if passengers want to smoke in his cab - which is illegal - as long as they keep their cigarette out of sight of the police.
My friend in Cork told me that when he visits one particular pub in the afternoon the publican will close and lock the doors and produce an ashtray and together they will sit and smoke inside.
In Dublin meanwhile I was taken to lunch and the four of us were given a table on an outside balcony where people could smoke. Every other table on the balcony was taken and although it was sunny it was also a little breezy. I wasn't aware of it at the time but someone must have flicked a switch because a canvas canopy suddenly appeared over our heads creating a rather snug environment. Technically it may have been illegal (customers allowed to eat and smoke in comfort and under cover shock!) but I can't imagine anyone apart from the most fanatical anti-smoker complaining.
Later in the afternoon we popped into a pub that had - wait for it - a separate smoking room! It wasn't very big but it looked and felt as if it was an integral part of the pub. It was separated from the main bar by a floor to ceiling glass wall. It felt, I have to say, like part of the pub. All it lacked was a flatscreen TV to watch the football (Brazil-Holland, since you ask).
At first I thought it was an indoor smoking room. In fact it was like a very large vertical chimney. The brick walls went up and up and up and 40 or 50 feet above our heads you could see the sky. True, we felt some spots of rain on our heads at one point, but generally it felt pretty sheltered.
And consider this. The last time I went through Dublin airport there were stern notices everywhere telling people not to smoke or face the consequences. This time, apart from the usual 'No Smoking' signs, I didn't see anything like that. What I did find was a smoker-friendly Garden Terrace Bar with great big banners that declared: "Coming soon - heated garden terrace designed by Diarmuid Gavin".
According to the airport website: "The bar/restaurant will have seating for 300 people and the 2,500 sq ft roof terrace ... will be a key feature of the development." Smoking area, key feature. Go figure.
The point I take from this is that the private sector is making some effort to cater for smokers. My hope is that the market will continue to find ways to accommodate smokers and a new and more liberal generation of politicians will be more sensible and less heavy-handed in the way that they interpret and enforce the law.
Then again, a simple amendment would suffice. Not too much to ask, is it?
Above: smoking room in a pub in Dublin