IRELAND this week did something that should serve as a model for the rest of Europe and, with luck, the United States: It put into effect what is said to be the strictest anti-smoking law in the world.
It's encouraging that this action could happen in Ireland, where some 30 percent of adults smoke, and where tobacco, drink, and story-telling have traditionally been a sort of unholy trinity. It is also a testament to what can be done by governments with some gumption.
Health Minister Micheal Martin had pushed to ban smoking in workplaces, including pubs, for three years, and despite widespread grumbling, opinion polls suggest that the majority of Irish citizens now support the ban.
The payoff in terms of public health will be immense - and, of course, the pubs won't go broke.
Just the same, some sympathy is due to the smokers, for whom the rules of the culture have suddenly changed. In recognition of their pain, we invite our readers to put on their best Bing Crosby voices and join the puffing diehards in a rendition of "Galway Bay" with updated lyrics. Sure, they deserve this much, because they'll cry if they can't laugh:
"If you ever go across the sea to Ireland
Then maybe at the closing of the day
You will crave a cigarette to watch the moonrise
Only to see the fun go down on Galway Bay.
No more to hear the ripple of the papers
The women in the back bar making gay
And to sit frustrated beside a turf fire in the cabin
And watch the barefaced health officials at their play.
For the smokers blowing o'er the seas from Ireland
Added perfume to the heather as they blew,
And the women in the uplands smoking Players
Now curse in language that the strangers do not know.
For healthy folk came and tried to teach us their way;
They scorn'd us just for being what we are.
But they might as well go pushing healthy tofu
Or light a penny cigarette from a star.
'Cause if we can have a smoke hereafter,
And somehow I am sure it's going to be,
I will ask my God to let tobacco make a comeback
In that dear land across the Irish sea.