Press Releases

2006 Releases

Irish Pubs Under Smoke-free Law in Ireland Show 91% Lower Indoor Air Pollution Than "Irish Pubs" in Cities Around the World

For immediate release: March 16, 2006  

Boston, MA - A survey of air pollution levels in "Irish pubs" around the world has found that indoor air pollution in authentic Irish pubs in Ireland, where a smoke-free law has been in effect for two years, is 91 percent lower than in "Irish pubs" located in other countries and cities where smoke-free laws do not apply. Researchers from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), Roswell Park Cancer Institute and health authorities in Ireland collaborated on the project that assessed air samples from 128 "Irish pubs" in 15 countries in North America, Europe, Australia and Asia.

In March 2004, the Republic of Ireland became the first country to have a nationwide ban on indoor smoking in all public spaces -- including restaurants and pubs. The policy provides an opportunity to assess the effectiveness of comprehensive smoke-free laws by comparing Irish indoor public spaces to public spaces elsewhere. Despite claims that the law could have a negative economic impact, Ireland has seen no decline in business at pubs and restaurants and, in fact, business in that sector has improved according to the Central Statistics Office (Ireland) (

The report How Smoke-free Laws Improve Air Quality: A Global Study of Irish Pubs was presented at a live webcast featuring Irish health authorities and US researchers on Thursday, March 16. [View archived webcast here: ]

Download the report here:

"The study demonstrates that national and local smoking policies can dramatically improve indoor air quality," said HSPH's Gregory N. Connolly, who led the research team. "There are no safe limits to secondhand smoke, and simply segregating smokers and non-smokers in indoor spaces is of no use. Ireland has shown the way for nations to protect all their citizens from a preventable cause of death and disease."

Connolly is Professor of the Practice of Public Health and director of the Tobacco Control Research Program at HSPH. Co-investigators on the Irish pubs survey included: Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, N.Y.; Environmental Health Department, Galway, Ireland; Office for Tobacco Control (Ireland) and the Research Institute for a Tobacco Free Society (Ireland).

Connolly continued: "Although many nations pass laws on secondhand smoke, some do not implement them. Ireland has clearly shown that an indoor smoking ban can be accomplished through education, enforcement and political will. While people are celebrating St. Patrick's Day across the globe, some will celebrate in healthy environments and others in not-so-healthy environments. It's time we made secondhand smoke global history."

Prof. Luke Clancy, Director General of the Research Institute for a Tobacco Free Society, commented: "The success of the iconic 'Irish Pub' brand is grounded in its authenticity. The challenge now to 'Irish Pubs' throughout the world on St. Patrick's Day is to remain faithful to the reality of pubs in Ireland and become smoke-free."

Secondhand smoke exposure remains a major public health concern that is entirely preventable. Secondhand smoke is a recognized human carcinogen containing at least 250 chemicals that are known to be toxic or carcinogenic, and is responsible for an estimated 3,000 lung cancer deaths annually in the U.S. among people who have never smoked as well as more than 25,000 deaths annually from coronary heart disease in never smokers, plus respiratory infections, asthma, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and other illnesses in children. Dangers of secondhand smoke exposure are highest among restaurant and bar workers whose workplaces typically are not regulated for air quality and who have some of the highest lung cancer rates of any occupation.

Testing sites included 41smoke-free Irish pubs in Ireland, the U.S. and Canada and 87 smoking-permitted Irish pubs located in Armenia, Australia, Belgium, China, Germany, Greece, France, Lebanon, Northern Ireland, Poland, Romania, U.S. and England.

Irish pubs were defined as those that served Irish beer on tap and had an Irish name (e.g. Murphy's, O'Donnell's) or a visible statement that the venue was an Irish pub.

Air quality assessment in Irish pubs found a dramatic reduction in the presence of respirable suspended particles (RSPs) of which secondhand smoke is a major source. A specific class of RSPs known as PM2.5, particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in diameter, is composed of extremely small particles that can be inhaled deeply into the lung and pose dangerous health effects. In order to protect public health, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set limits of 15µg/m3 as the average allowable annual exposure level and 65 µg/m3for any 24-hour exposure.

Among the Irish pubs surveyed, the PM2.5 level averaged 23 µg/m3 for smoke-free pubs while averaging 340 µg/m3 for pubs where smoking was permitted.

There are limitations to this study. First, convenience samples of Irish pubs and locations were used and thus, findings may not be representative of all Irish pubs. Second, testing did not control for ventilation or smoke that may have migrated from outdoors where smokers tend to smoke. Third, secondhand smoke is not the only source of indoor levels of PM2.5 and other sources such as ambient particle concentrations, cooking, and migration of smoke from outside could contribute to overall levels of indoor air pollution. The researchers said that they would expect, however, that other sources would be present in both smoke-free and smoking-permitted pubs and thus, differences in average PM2.5 are largely attributable to secondhand smoke.

Many US states and foreign countries have implemented policies for smoke-free workplaces including restaurants and pubs. The countries that currently have indoor smoking bans that cover pubs include: Ireland, Bhutan, Malta, Norway, Sweden, Italy, New Zealand and most recently, England (effective 2007), Scotland (upcoming), Northern Ireland (effective 2007) and Uruguay. US states with smoke-free laws in workplaces including pubs are: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Montana (2009), New Jersey (April, 2006), New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Utah (2009), Vermont, Washington. Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico have also passed such laws. The Washington, D.C. law will extend to cover bars in January, 2007. Many US states have adopted local smoke-free laws. As of January 2006, 28 percent of the US population was covered by local or state-wide smoke-free bar laws, and almost 40 percent of the population was covered by any smoke-free law (i.e. workplace, restaurant, bar).

The World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention for Tobacco Control (FCTC) calls on governments to protect all persons from exposure to tobacco smoke, rather than just specific populations such as children or pregnant women (Guiding Principle 4.1). This protection should be extended, according to Article 8.2, in indoor workplaces, public transport, indoor public places and other public places.

Support for this report was provided by the Flight Attendant Medical Research Institute.

Robin Herman
HSPH Office of Communications
(617) 432-4752