Croatia has made a U-turn on a law banning smoking in public after buckling to pressure from cafe and restaurant owners who told the government it was ruining their businesses.
The parliament on Thursday adopted an amended law that again allows smoking in cafes and restaurants in specially designated smoking zones covering no more than a fifth of any premises. The remaining four-fifths must be kept for non-smokers.
AdvertisementCafes smaller than 50 square metres (538 square feet), however, will be allowed to decide whether to become a smoking or non-smoking establishment after meeting certain criteria.
Ever since the law banning smoking in all public places was introduced in May, managers of cafes and restaurants have pressed the government to amend it.
Zlatko Puntijar, head of the National Association of Bar and Restaurant Owners, hailed the move which followed talks between his group and the Ministry of Health.
"The recession already took its toll and the winter would have been a disaster," for the sector, Puntijar told AFP.
"During summer cafes and restaurants had terraces that saved them."
Officials have said the law was aimed at protecting non-smokers, who make up 68 percent of the country's population of 4.4 million.
"I would have been happy if these amendments did not have to be made," head of the National League Against Cancer Damir Eljuga told AFP.
"However, I understand that due to the economic situation the government wanted to save some jobs."
In Croatia, tobacco is blamed for killing some 10,000 people each year while an additional 3,000 die from passive smoking, according to the health ministry.
Annual health costs in treating the consequences of smoking are estimated at 422 million euros (619 million dollars).
The population remains split, however, regarding recent developments.
"I'm glad because, regardless of health, there was no income. Smokers are better consumers," said one man named Josip who runs the modest Ceker cafe in downtown Zagreb.
"Ceker will be for smokers," Josip said estimating that since the ban was introduced his income had dropped by 30 percent. He believed it would have been more if he had not had some tables in front of the cafe.
"Cigarettes are not good but everyone should have to right to decide for himself," said cafe regular Predrag Kovac, lighting a cigarette.
But not all cafe owners have been opposed to the initial ban.
"After some grumbling, people who have the habit of going out would have continued to do so," said Visnja Barjaktarevic who runs the upmarket Argentina Cafe in Zagreb.
"If it can work abroad why it could not work in Croatia?"
Morena Tolj, sipping her coffee outside the cafe, echoed her view.
"It's a shame that they ceded to pressure. Smoking ban works perfectly well in other countries like in France and Italy."
But some smokers were grateful for the change in policy.
"It was a real torture while the worst was in nightclubs," claims Vanda Mrsic, a designer, who smokes two packs a day.
"Being a heavy smoker, I preferred to stay at home than to go out and abstain."
The Balkans are home to Europe's most inveterate smokers, with 30 to 40 percent of all adults hooked on a habit, which is considered a major cause of premature death, according to the World Health Organisation.
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