Anti-smoking bill passes in first reading

Photo: Filip Jandourek

In a first reading, lawmakers in the Czech lower house on Tuesday backed a government bill proposing a full ban on smoking in all cafes, bars and restaurants. The opposition Civic Democrats as well as some members of the communist party came out against but were unable to derail the legislation. It will now be reviewed by Parliamentary committees.

Photo: Filip Jandourek
The Czech Republic is a step closer to implementing legislation which would introduce a full ban on smoking in the country’s bars, cafes and restaurants. For years, new legislation was pursued unsuccessfully even though polls repeatedly suggested that a majority of Czechs, including those who smoke, would be in favour of a ban.

Such sentiments didn’t stop the opposition Civic Democrats on Tuesday from trying to sideline the draft proposal.

Party leader Petr Fiala charged the issue was one of choice and freedom: for proprietors to choose whether to run smoking or non-smoking establishments and the freedom of customers to choose which establishments to visit. The Civic Democrats’ Jana Černochová, who is also mayor of Prague 2, meanwhile suggested the legislation would not do much to help lower the overall number of smokers:

“In Prague 2 more than half of our restaurants are already non-smoking. I invite the health minister to come out one night at midnight to see the situation on residential streets. If he thinks the proposal will get people to quit their bad habits, he is mistaken.”

In the view of the country’s health minister, Svatopluk Němeček, the argument is not about smokers at all, but protecting non-smokers who are needlessly put at risk. When it was his turn to speak, he set an urn he had brought on the speaker’s lectern to make his point:

Svatopluk Němeček, photo: Filip Jandourek
“I brought a ‘prop’ with me today which each of us will recognise. It isn’t a pretty sight. The average smoker shortens their life by 15 -18 years. I reject that they should take non-smokers to the grave with them.”

For the moment, meanwhile, it appears that e-cigarettes will escape being banned in the final version of the bill which still has to see recommendations from parliamentary committees. There are still uncertainties over actual health impact of e-cigarettes; the health minister made clear that there he was willing to compromise.