Croatia is set to implement a public smoking ban, including in bars and restaurants, echoing standards adopted by the European Union which it hopes to join by 2011, the health ministry said on Tuesday.
"A six-month transitory period for bars, restaurants and the tobacco industry is expiring on Wednesday and the law restricting the use of tobacco will be fully implemented," a statement said.
The ministry stressed the law was aimed at protecting non-smokers, making up 68 percent of the country's population of 4.4 million.
According to the law, smoking at bars will only be allowed on terraces, while restaurants can allocate a separate room for smokers, but the establishments cannot serve food or drink in these areas.
Fines of up to 2,100 euros (2,800 dollars) for individuals and up to 21,000 euros for entrepreneurs will be imposed on those violating the smoking ban.
The health ministry estimated that tobacco kills some 10,000 people every year while an additional 3,000 die from passive smoking in Croatia.
Health costs of treating the consequences of smoking are estimated at a significant 422 million euros annually.
Croatia already had laws banning smoking in health and education facilities, and marking out separate smoking areas in other public spaces. But the rules have often been ignored, notably in bars, restaurants and offices.
While hailed by non-smokers, the new legislation has already sparked controversy in the country whose economy heavily relies on the tourism industry.
Bar and restaurant owners, in particular have protested strongly, claiming it will seriously affect their business.
The Balkans are home to Europe's most inveterate smokers, with 30 to 40 percent of all adults hooked on a habit considered a major cause of premature death by the World Health Organization.