Power of the People

Lost amidst the hullaballoo of recent days was an article from Rory Carroll in the Guardian marking 20 years since Ireland, in a world-first, introduced a smoking ban in workplaces, pubs and restaurants. Journalists from all over the world descended onto the Republic to see this novel social experiment in action and to see whether it would stick. To the surprise of many, stick it did, and similar legislation has been adopted by multiple other countries in the years since.

Now there’s a famous saying that ‘Laws are like sausages, it is best not to see them being made’ attributed to Otto Von Bismarck (and like all the best sayings attributed to famous people, he almost certainly didn’t say it) but surely this is the exception, for this world-first ban faced tremendous opposition from the Tobacco industry and yet it was shepherded through the legislative process thanks in large part to the efforts of a civil servant named Tom Power. As Carroll writes


” ‘Tom Power was an encyclopedia on the tobacco industry,’ says Micheál Martin, who was health minister at the time. ‘He understood every move the tobacco industry would make.’

Members of the alliance that ushered in the ban compare Power to an engineer, a guide and a chess grandmaster who anticipated and countered the opponent’s strategy. He died in 2005, at the age of 55, but Friday’s anniversary of the landmark ban has shone a new light on his role.”


It’s a genuinely fascinating story and well worth a read. In our current age, where we have ‘Big Tech’, ‘Big Coal’, ‘Big Pharma’ and a multitude of other ‘Bigs’ who seemingly will stop at nothing to squeeze every last scintilla of profit they can from their chosen fields, heedless of the consequences, it can be gratifying to learn that it is possible to stand up and advocate for a different path that prioritises public good over corporate need.


20 years ago Ireland managed it, and much of the world followed. Perhaps it can be done again?


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