Forget speed dating, blind dates and the web – smirting is the new way to bag a partner. This combination of smoking and flirting has taken countries with a fag ban by storm, and England will be no exception.
The days when smoking was cool are supposed to be long gone. Puffing on a cigarette spells social death and smokers are supposed to be out of fashion.
That’s the theory. In fact, in Ireland – where a complete ban on smoking in bars, pubs and restaurants has been in place for over a year – having a quick drag has replaced speed dating as the best way to spice up your love life.
The cosy courtyard of the Temple Bar pub in Dublin looks, at first glance, like any other outdoor venue on a sunny evening. People stand around drinking, gossiping and moaning about work. But look closer and you’ll find a different situation. Everyone is smoking and, in between drags on those ever-present cigarettes, they are practising their best, light-hearted chat-up lines as well.
Welcome to the practice of smirting (smoking and flirting), a craze which has swept Ireland since the introduction of the pub and restaurant smoking ban in January 2004. As it took hold, enterprising pubs and bars introduced outside areas for smokers to gather and with them came a more relaxed attitude to meeting people. Now, instead of spending time in crowded bars, people find themselves striking up conversations over a quick fag.
‘It’s brilliant,’ says David Conlon, 24, of the ban’s unexpected side-effect. ‘You spend your time going in and out from the bars to the outside areas and that’s a great way to get meeting people. There is definitely more pulling, just because you’re inevitably chatting to way more girls during a night. There’s nothing sleazy about asking for or giving someone a light or a cigarette, so you don’t feel as stupid as you would just going up to a girl in a pub.’
On one level, it is unsurprising that those hanging out in smoking areas seem to be having more fun. Smoking is an intrinsically social habit – as TV shows from The Office to The Smoking Room have shown. You meet a wider mix of people and the opportunities to start a conversation are many and easy. ‘It’s no problem talking to people,’ says Dave Collins, 26. ‘One of the most popular lines is "so what do you think about the ban?"’
Nor is it simply hardened smokers who hang out outside. ‘In Ireland more women tend to smoke than men, so the ratio is pretty favourable if you want to pull,’ says Conlon. ‘I have mates who weren’t really smokers at all but they’d go outside and say "can I crash a cigarette off you" and everything would just take off from there.’
This increase in social smoking is one of the more worrying aspects of smirting. Anti-smoking campaigners believed that the ban would improve health and stop people smoking. But many young Dubliners admit that they have increased their consumption of cigarettes because of the social benefits.
‘Definitely,’ says Conlon. ‘I’m not much of a smoker – I used to hate it when you’d sit around in a pub and it was smoky and you’d come home at night with your clothes stinking. Now you just pop out for a quick cigarette, meet some quality people and have a laugh.
‘I met my last girlfriend in a cafe on Dawson Street. I had been talking to her briefly, then went out for a smoke. When I came back, she says to me: "Do you smoke … coming out for one?" We went out for two months.’