The pub industry will see winners and losers from the forthcoming smoking ban, warns Alan Whitelaw, head of retail and leisure at NAI Fuller Peiser.
Some operators, he points out, have already been pioneering non-smoking areas for almost a decade.
"For these establishments, there will be more of a smooth transition when the total ban comes into effect in 2007," he predicted.
"However, for those wet-led pubs which have not voluntarily reduced smoking, there may be a sudden reduction in sales.
Mr Whitelaw says country pubs may be able to enlarge their outdoor space to accommodate the change or, if they don't already have an outdoor area, now may be the time to start planning one.
"The biggest problem is likely to be for those high street establishments which don't currently have beer gardens and have no way to incorporate them," he cautioned. "There is thus the possibility of a two-tier market being created with properties that don't have outside areas potentially dropping in value.
"This could drive more market activity in terms of property requirements as pub groups look to dispose of those without outside areas."
It could all have "a lasting downturn effect on the high street pub market", suggests Mr Whitelaw.
He went on: "Research into the effects of the ban in the United States by its Department of Health has shown that in New York City and California, restaurant and liquor activity increased following the ban, and employment in New York also increased as a result.
"The research also showed that New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Miami witnessed no negative impact on tourism.
"While this looks extremely positive at face value, the research included establishments that were already nonsmoking such as Starbucks and McDonalds and so the results are extremely questionable.
"The only independent research carried out surveyed 300 bars, hotels and cocktail lounges in New York City and was undertaken by a group of Irish trade associations.
"Establishments reported 17 per cent fewer waiters and waitresses and an 11 per cent decline in bartenders since the ban. More importantly, two thirds of respondents cited fewer customers now than before.
"If this report is to be taken literally, and particularly the last point, then the impact on establishments that were mainly drinking dens, and not restaurant-led, would be extremely negative, particularly for those properties that don't have outdoor areas or 'pavement licenses'.
"The smoking ban came into effect in New York in 2003, which, given the overall economic downturn in the years following 9/11, meant that the hospitality industry was already suffering anyway.
"In comparison, Ireland has seen a full smoking ban in the workplace since March 2004 which has, in effect, outlawed smoking in restaurants and pubs also.
"Anecdotal evidence has suggested that there has been as high as a 20 per cent fall in sales for wet-led pub properties in Ireland.
"Up tyo now, analysts have been quick to relate this to the possible effects in England, Scotland and Wales." ..SUPL: