One year ago Ireland became the first country to ban smoking in all workplaces, including bars and restaurants. Many bars used to be smoke-filled but now people puffing outside pubs before heading back in to enjoy their drinks is a common sight in Ireland. The law was controversial when introduced - especially with pub landlords. But predictions of the ban being widely flouted have been proven wrong, with punters generally welcoming the law. 'It's certainly far more pleasant now to go into a pub or a restaurant and not be worried when you sit down beside someone that they are going to light up straight away and that you're going to have to move,' said Ralph Cunningham, who regularly travels back to his home county of Tipperary from London. 'It is one less consideration when you go out at night because now you're certain that you're going to have a smoke-free time wherever you go.' The ban has also meant that families may be more likely to go out for meals in pubs knowing young children will not be inhaling cigarette smoke. Alec McTurk from County Wicklow said he used to be concerned about dining in a pub over concerns about the effect of smoke on his two-year-old daughter. '[Now] I would be more inclined to go in,' he said. A government opinion poll showed 93 per cent think the introduction of the law was a good idea, including 80 per cent of smokers. The same research found 99 per cent of restaurants and 90 per cent of pubs had complied with the law. Marking the first anniversary of the smoking ban last week, the Irish government promoted the law as a role model for places such as Hong Kong, which aims to introduce a similar ban by the middle of next year. 'The Irish public's overwhelming acceptance of this historic public-health measure sends a very clear message to legislators around the world who are considering the introduction of similar smoke-free workplace legislation,' said Sean Power, a junior minister at the Department of Health and Children. 'Citizens fundamentally accept its validity and necessity in order to protect their health.' The health of bar staff has improved since the ban, with less carbon monoxide - the poisonous gas produced by cigarettes - found in their breath. Preliminary results from 56 bar staff 'shows that there has been a very substantial fall of 45 per cent in carbon monoxide in barmen who were non-smokers, and a decrease of 36 per cent in ex-smokers,' said Professor Luke Clancy, director-general of the Research Institute for a Tobacco Free Society. Further research by Mandate, a trade union for catering employees, showed 87 per cent of bar staff welcome the ban - up from 71 per cent a year ago when the law came into effect, while 82 per cent of bar staff report finding it easier to breathe at work. 'One year later, this research clearly shows that bar workers are enjoying working in healthy, clean and smoke-free environments, free from the dangers posed by other people's smoke,' Mandate general secretary-designate John Douglas said. However, the ban has not been welcomed by publicans, who claim business has slumped as punters who can't light up while enjoying a drink stay away. 'As we had feared, the draught beer market decreased by 9 per cent last year on a national basis and by a significant 13 per cent in the Dublin pub trade. The impact of this has meant that about 2,000 full and part-time jobs have been lost in the Dublin pub trade over the past year,' said Donall O'Keeffe, chief executive of the Licensed Vintners Association, which represents Dublin publicans. 'The smoking ban is not the only factor responsible for the decline in pub sales, but it is without a doubt the main contributing factor.' Seamus O'Donoghue, president of the Vintners Federation of Ireland, which represents rural pubs, thinks it is unfair to discriminate against smokers: 'Pubs have two types of customers - smoking and non-smoking - and both need to be catered for,' he said. The government disputes the publicans' figures about slumping revenue and lost jobs. Official statistics show bar sales declined by 4.4 per cent last year. But sales also fell 4.2 per cent in 2003, the year before the smoking ban, which must have been caused by other factors. 'Economic analysts suggest that this continuing downward trend is due to a number of factors, including high prices, changing lifestyles, shifting demographic patterns,' according to a report last week by the government's Office of Tobacco Control. Employment in the hospitality sector fell 2.4 per cent last year, according to official statistics. But the number employed in the sector at the end of last year is still slightly higher than two years earlier, which suggests the smoking ban may have little to do with last year's job losses. While the majority of publicans oppose the smoking ban, a few believe its impact has been overblown, saying bar sales have been in decline for the past few years. Customers have been put off by high bar prices and poor service, according to one new entrant to the business. 'The trade has been gradually tailing off for lots of reasons and the most important is that people decided the beer was too expensive in Ireland and they weren't getting good value for money,' said Ronan Clarke, who became co-owner of Murray's bar in Dublin around the time the ban came into effect. 'The smoking ban might be seen as the nail in the coffin, but to be honest I think publicans made a huge big deal out of it because it was just something definite they could strike out at.'