Thu, Oct 12, 2006 - Page 9 News List

European lawmakers fired up about smoking

While laws against smoking in offices, bars and cafes are being introduced around Europe, some countries just ignore the rules

AFP , BRUSSELS

Smokers are finding themselves increasingly unwelcome in public areas throughout Europe as health fears over passive smoking require them to stub it out before entering more and more bars, restaurants and train stations.

Ireland, where smoke-filled pubs were long the center of social life, led the way with a total ban on smoking in public places imposed on March 29, 2004.

Since then Norway (not in the EU), Italy, Malta, Sweden and Scotland have followed suit, with the rest of Britain along with Lithuania set to fall in next year.

To the great surprise of many people, compliance with the public smoking ban in Ireland was running at 94 percent a year after it was introduced. Huddles of hardcore smokers quickly became a common sight puffing away around giant ashtrays placed outside bars.

Ireland's main opposition justice spokesman John Deasy, one of the stubborn 6 percent, was fired by his party leader after he smoked in the members bar of the Irish parliament.

In Rome, Italians wanting to smoke in public since the ban was introduced there in January last year wander out on to terraces and balconies in summer and winter alike.

On Tuesday a French parliamentary commission was due to publish its recommendations on the issue, with a government decision expected next week.

Paris has announced a delay in any legislation to allow bars, bistros and discos to prepare and adapt so that empty ashtrays don't mean empty tills.

Cigarette smoke in restaurants, bars and even hospitals makes France's public spaces among the unhealthiest in the world, according to new research released last week.

In 42 percent of French public spaces, the air quality was ranked as "dangerous" due to high smoke concentrations, said the study conducted by the Lyon-based International Center for Cancer Research and the Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

Only five countries -- Syria, Romania, Lebanon, Belgium and Singapore -- performed worse, according to the 24-nation study, which looked at bars, restaurants and nightclubs, as well as train stations, airports and hospitals.

However in most other EU nations public smoking bans are non-existent or full of holes that leave anti-tobacco campaigners fuming.

Governments throughout the bloc are still having the coffers versus coffins debate, weighing up the undeniable health benefits against the loss of tax revenues from cigarettes and cigars.

Smokers in Lithuania will be dealt a double blow from the start of next year, when they will be banned from smoking in public and will have to pay more for their addiction as tax on tobacco is hiked, a recent press report said.

New EU member Lithuania must increase excise on tobacco, as part of obligations to the bloc, which it joined in 2004. By 2010, excise must make up 57 percent of the price of the most popular brand of smokes in Lithuania, according to EU rules.

In Austria, where 37 percent of adults smoke -- one of the highest rates in the EU, where the average is 27 percent -- there is no ban at all on smoking in bars and restaurants.

In Germany any ban is the responsibility of the restaurateurs, with MPs there last month again deciding not to introduce any binding rules.

In Spain, where an anti-smoking ban has been in place since January, exceptions to the rules have allowed most bars and restaurants to filter out any smoking ban.

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