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THE Health Minister is facing growing calls to ban smoking in outdoor dining areas of premises that serve food - but has no plans to do so this year.

New restrictions in Dublin have meant restaurants and bars can only serve food in outdoor areas many of which allow their customers to smoke.

Two years ago the Government supported a Seanad Private Members' Motion to legislate for the introduction of a smoking ban in areas where food is consumed - but the measure is not part of the current legislative programme on tobacco and Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said it will not be addressed until after the current programme is completed.

Research is inconclusive at present on whether coronavirus is carried in exhaled smoke but Professor Luke Clancy - who has worked in respiratory medicine for decades - told the Sunday World there is a lot of worry in the medical community that the virus could be spread through exhaled cigarettes.

Prof Clancy, who is the director of the Tobacco Free Research Institute of Ireland, said he believes Minister Donnelly should immediately sign a ministerial order to ban smoking in outdoor areas with food.

Compromise

He said when smoking inside pubs was banned by Micheal Martin as health minister in 2004 the smoking areas were a compromise situation but Prof Clancy believes they should be abolished completely in light of the Covid-19 epidemic.

"I think this is an opportunity to do away with smoking areas.

"We have published research to show that the levels of second-hand smoke in outdoor smoking areas is abnormal and high and dangerous in itself.

"In general I think they should be abolished but in particular in this era of Covid they are particularly likely to be dangerous. We don't know but we suspect they carry the virus."

He added that it was unfair on staff particularly at a time when some can only serve food outside.

Health experts say smokers also risk infection in other ways such as touching their cigarettes with their fingers and bringing it to their mouth and when handling face masks.

A spokesperson for the Irish Cancer Society told the Sunday World that without even taking Covid in to account there is no risk-free level of second-hand smoke exposure. "Even brief exposure can be harmful to health."

Last month regions of Spain banned smoking in all outdoor public areas where social distancing could not be maintained amid concern that smoking increases the risk of transmission.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health told the Sunday World that legislation to ban smoking in outdoor areas where food is served will not be brought in until other upcoming legislation related to tobacco was enacted.