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Greece's Desperate Bid To Stub Out That Cigarette With Latest Public Smoking Ban

by Tanya Thomas on July 2, 2009 at 10:03 AM
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 Greece's Desperate Bid To Stub Out That Cigarette With Latest Public Smoking Ban

Europe's heaviest-smoking nation and a land known for its continuing love affair with cigarettes is introducing a tobacco ban in public places on July 1, again. This will be the third such attempt in a decade to stamp out cigarettes from the Mediterranean country.

But critics fear loopholes in the legislation and its unpopularity mean it could suffer the same fate as previous anti-smoking bids, which proved ineffective.


Around 20,000 Greeks die a year from tobacco-related ailments and 42 percent of the population smokes, according to the country's health minister, Dimitris Avramopoulos.

Greece lags behind many of its European peers who have outlawed smoking in public places in recent years.

But Avramopoulos is convinced Greece can now catch up, declaring: "The moment of truth has arrived, this ban aims to bring a change that will revolutionise people's outlook."

Two previous anti-smoking laws introduced in 2002 and 2003 had no real effect, but the minister vows the new legislation will be "applied strictly without yielding to any sort of pressure".

The measures, which come into effect on Wednesday, aim to fill in gaps left by the previous laws which focused on creating smoking areas.

Under the new legislation smoking will be banned in hospitals, schools, in vehicles, and in all public spaces.

Huge billboards advertising cigarette brands will also disappear from city centres and roadsides, as the new rules ban tobacco advertising.

After a last-minute amendment to the law, companies with more than 50 employees will be able to set up dedicated smoking areas on their premises.

The ban does not apply to all cafés and bars, however. Premises over 70 square metres (750 square feet) will be allowed to create small smoking areas, as long as they remain "totally separate".

Establishments under that size must choose whether to go entirely tobacco free, or to allow only smokers onto the premises.

But in a country where any attempt to impose bans is viewed as an attack on personal freedom, the new law has not been greeted with enthusiasm.

"It is a racist and fascist law, why does such a thing need to be done in Europe?" asked Antigone Mantziou, a 30-year-old student, sitting with a friend in an Athens café in front of an ashtray overflowing with cigarette butts.

"We come here to relax, why must a restriction be imposed?"

Theodore, a 45-year-old Athens bar worker, believes most small watering holes will choose to accept smokers, saying: "Out customers come here to drink and smoke."

Alexis Zorbas, who leads the health ministry anti-smoking campaign, aims to reassure businesses with the promise the new legislation will be applied "gradually".

"Over the summer, outside tables will allow us to start off gently, and we will work with local authorities to accomplish the task," he added.

The health ministry has already hired more than 50 inspectors. Smokers breaking the rules face fines up to 500 euros (700 dollars), and bar owners face fines up to 2,000 euros.

As far as health minister Avramopoulos is concerned, Greek "society is mature nowadays" and ready for the ban.

He boasts of a poll showing 80 percent of Greeks and 60 percent of smokers in favour of the law.

"We are going to get there, as many European countries have already. Why do we always have to be lagging behind?" he said.

Greece is behind many of its European peers in outlawing tobacco in public places.

Ireland led the way with a ban in public places in 2004, and other countries to have since followed suit include Italy, France, Britain, Spain and Portugal.

Source: AFP

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