Anti-smoking legislation to again be debated in Parliament

Photo: Filip Jandourek

New anti-smoking legislation, risen from the ashes of a similar bill shot down in last month, will again be debated in the lower house. At stake is a full ban on smoking in restaurants. The government is hoping this time the bill gets the necessary support not least from coalition MPs.

Photo: Filip Jandourek
The Czech Republic is one of the last holdouts in Europe when it comes to enacting comprehensive anti-smoking and over the years the successful adoption of comprehensive legislation must have seemed like a pipe dream. All too often, too little political will (or political will gradually diluted in the legislative process) has led to a negative outcome. In a memorable moment in the lower house last year, aiming to put the country on the right track, Health Minister Svatopluk Němeček brought an urn to the podium to stress the need for a smoking ban to prevent needless deaths from second-hand smoke. But even that bill failed.

The government is now taking another crack at it in the hopes that this time the legislation will pass and no crisis will flare up again. The head of the Social Democrats’ Deputies Club Roman Sklenák:

Roman Sklenák,  photo: archive of Czech Parliament
“We have two weeks until the summer break and during that period we will call a new session and I am confident we can get the legislation through a first reading and that it can be passed quickly after the holidays, so that senators will also have enough time to back it as well by the end of the year.”

If the Senate is able to pass the proposal in October, it would leave restaurant owners some two months to take appropriate steps (the bill could continue to allow smoking, for example, in restaurant gardens outside). Roman Sklenák’s counterpart in fellow coalition party ANO, Jaroslav Faltýnek, has expressed support while Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek made clear that success this time is crucial.

“We have highlighted priority legislation which is very important for us, where we want to do everything to make sure it passes. The anti-smoking bill is exactly that: it failed once but we want to get it back in the game and passed.”

As before, opponents of a strict ban such as MP Marek Benda of the Civic Democrats have already signaled they plan to rock the boat. The last time around, Mr Benda pushed for restaurants to be allowed a special room on the premises where customers could visit to light up. Already he has made clear that if he can, he will throw a wrench in the works again.

Marek Benda,  photo: Filip Jandourek
“The government failed to respect the will of the lower house… so I plan, so to speak, to complicate matters for them.”

Some critics charge that restaurant owners themselves should be given the freedom to decide on their own, whether to allow smoking or to be smoke-free.