Cigarette sales in the Irish Republic have risen for the first time since the ban on smoking in pubs and other public places came into play almost three years ago.

Latest figures from the Central Statistics Office show a 3.5% increase in tobacco consumption last year, with total expenditure rising to €1.9bn.

The Office of Tobacco Control, which administers the ban, blamed the increase on an influx of foreign nationals from new EU member states. "Almost one in three eastern Europeans is a smoker, compared with just 24% of the Irish population," said a spokeswoman.

Meanwhile, a ban on the sale of cigarette ten-packs in the Republic has been ­delayed. It should be in place by now, but the tobacco industry said some stocks were already in the distribution chain and could not be easily recalled.