Austria will introduce a partial smoking ban in bars and restaurants on January 1, 2009, but with half measures and special allowances, critics are doubtful it will make much difference to existing habits.
Under the new law, which was rushed through parliament just before it was dissolved in July ahead of snap elections, establishments under 50 square metres (540 square feet) will be able to choose whether to accept smokers or not.
AdvertisementAnd two thirds of pubs, clubs and cafes have said they will continue to allow smoking, according to the latest survey by the Austrian chamber of commerce (WKOe).
Bigger establishments that do not wish to become entirely smoke-free will have to turn at least 50 percent of their surface into protected no-smoking areas.
But those between 50 and 80 square metres can escape required partitioning on architectural, security or conservation grounds, and 38.4 percent said they would seek an exemption from the authorities, meaning they will likely remain open to smokers, the WKOe found.
Those that do plan a partition will have until July 1, 2010 to do so and can continue to allow smoking until then.
"A lazy compromise," the daily Salzburger Nachrichten said of the new legislation, noting that "almost nobody is happy with this law: smokers feel restricted and non-smokers poorly protected."
The newspaper Kurier accused the former government, which passed the law, of "bending its knees before the tourism and gastronomy sectors."
"What's positive is that Austria is now seeing some movement (on the smoking issue), but it is a half-hearted measure," Austrian Medical Chamber spokesman Martin Stickler told AFP.
"The last government tried to balance health and business and ended up with an indecisive solution," he added.
Whereas traditionally big smokers like France, Italy and Britain have managed to fully stub out their cigarettes in cafes and restaurants, Austrians have been very reluctant to follow suit.
Wein & Co, a chain of winebars, banned smoking earlier this year, hoping to set an example, but recently started welcoming tobacco-lovers back after business flagged.
"The Austrian smoking ban won't work because it's almost not a smoking ban, except that businesses have to spend a lot of money on making these partitions," noted Sylvia Hartl, a pulmonary disease specialist at Vienna's Otto Wagner hospital.
"Examples from abroad show that a general ban is the way to go," Stickler insisted, citing the cases of Ireland and Italy.
For now cafes, clubs and restaurants will have to post large signs at the entrance - green for non-smoking and red for smoking - to indicate their preference.
"We must wait to see the impact of this new legislation," Health Minister Alois Stoeger told Kurier.
"A review will make sense after a year."
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