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Countdown to stubout

On September 1 Greece will make a renewed attempt to join the smoking ban nations of the earth

Ρεπορτάζ: Damian Mac Con Uladh

Δημοσιεύθηκε στην εφημερίδα Athens News στις 27/8/10

WITH LESS than a week to go before Greece’s new antismoking legislation comes into force, there’s little evidence on the streets that Greece, Europe’s most nicotine-addicted nation, is about to stub out smoking in indoor public places for good.
On September 1, Greece will embark on its fourth attempt in eight years to ban lighting up in cafes, restaurants and workplaces.
The new law represents a “total ban on smoking in all indoor places”, Health Minister Mariliza Xenoyiannakopoulou said in an August 19 interview with Flash 96 radio, attributing the failure of the last ban, introduced in 2009, to “exceptions and loopholes” which caused “unfair competition between small and large restaurants”.
The Pasok minister was referring to the concession that allowed the owners of premises smaller than 70 square metres to declare themselves either exclusively smoking or nonsmoking establishments and the owners of larger venues to install fully enclosed, air-conditioned smoking areas.
Heralded at the time by New Democracy health minister Dimitris Avramopoulos as a law “ending the myth that we make laws that we don’t respect”, the previous ban also allowed companies with more than 50 workers to designate a smoking room for their employees.
Within months of being introduced on 1 July 2009, the law was a flop, particularly in cafes and restaurants, despite encouraging signs that it enjoyed the support of the public and that it had initially met with considerable compliance in much of the hospitality sector.
However, the Xenoyiannakopoulou law does contain some temporary loopholes, and has therefore met with criticism from the country’s small but active antismoking lobby. Significantly, casinos and venues larger than 300m2 offering live music - many of the country’s bouzoukia nightclubs would fall into this category - will have nine months, until 31 May 2011, to comply with the new ban. This concession was made at the request of the owners of such establishments, who said that their business was already suffering considerably as a result of the economic crisis.

Some good points
While Alexandros Fotinos, founder of the NoSmoke.gr NGO, admits that the new law has some “good points” - along with the total ban on smoking in the workplace, it will prohibit smoking in taxis as well as tobacco advertising in cinemas. But he said the legislation remains “problematic” and falls short of expectations of his organisation’s 15,000 supporters.
In an interview with this newspaper a week ahead of the introduction of the new ban, Fotinos said that the interior, health and economy ministers had yet to prepare a joint ministerial decision specifying who precisely will enforce the ban and how.
The absence of all the necessary legal instruments such as a joint ministerial decision, he points out, was the main reason the 2009 ban could not be enforced. Although the authorities received thousands of complaints that the ban was being flouted in cafes and workplaces, no prosecutions followed. “If we don’t have a joint ministerial decision by August 31, the law cannot be enforced from the following day because the municipal police will not have the power to do anything,” Fotinos said.

No police role
The antismoking campaigner also regretted that a proposal to give the police a role in enforcing the ban - a detail included in first draft of the new law, which was launched by the minister on World No Tobacco Day on May 31 - was dropped from the final version of the law, which empowers only the prefectural health authorities, municipal police and the coastguard in this regard.
Fotinos is also scathing at an exemption in the law that will allow small neighbourhood shops to advertise cigarettes inside and kiosks to showcase cigarette packs behind windows. “This is completely illogical. A lot of children go to small shops and kiosks to buy sweets and there they will be confronted with these adverts,” said Fotinos.

Low public awareness
Judging by the responses given to Athens News reporters on Syntagma on August 24 (see “Question of the week”, page 11), public awareness of the new law seems much lower than in the runup to the 2009 ban, which benefitted from an extensive PR campaign.
In her interview with Flash, the minister said that an information campaign related to the ban would be launched in the coming days. However, as of August 26, the www.smokestop.gov.gr website, a government website set up in July 2009 to inform the public of the smoking ban, has not been updated since.
Nevertheless, Panagiotis Behrakis, chairman of the National Coordinating Committee against Smoking, believes the new law will succeed where others have failed.
“The antismoking campaign and efforts in this country take time,” said the University of Athens professor and lung specialist, who attributed the failure of the previous ban on the burden of the H1N1 crisis on the health ministry, that year’s general election and the subsequent economic crisis.
Present conditions, the professor added, have increased the need for a ban.
“Smoking is one of the causes of the crisis because smoke-related diseases are a very severe burden on the country’s public insurance system,” he said, adding that the cost of treating tobacco-related illnesses far surpasses the amount of money raised through taxes on cigarettes and the tobacco industry.
“We have to change our attitudes towards smoking for reasons related to the financial crisis we have to face and overcome.” “Smoking is not a switch-on, switch-off problem,” he continued, pointing out that the September 1 ban represents “another very efficient and very promising step towards a smoke-free Greece”.
With smoking widespread in cafes, bars, restaurants and many workplaces, Greece is one of the last European Union countries without proper mechanisms in place to protect the rights of those who chose not to smoke and of those who work in the hospitality sector. In the wider Mediterranean neighbourhood, Italy introduced a ban in 2005, Turkey in July 2009 and Cyprus in January 2010.

How to report transgressions
THE 24-HOUR 1142 smoking-ban hotline established in 2009 will remain in operation. To make a formal complaint, you must provide your personal details, including full name and address.
The law in a nutshell
* Individuals found smoking in public indoor places may be issued with a fine ranging from 50 to 500 euros.
* Owners of public places (restaurants, cafes, workplaces etc) where people are found smoking, those found guilty of selling tobacco and alcohol products to minors, and those found in contravention of the ban on tobacco advertising, will face a fine ranging from 500 to 10,000 euros. On their fifth violation, their respective operating licence will be cancelled.
* Repeat offenders in all categories will pay higher fines
Source: Article 17 of Law 3868/2010, published in the Government Gazette on August 3