Could Czech Republic finally get smoking ban?

Photo: Filip Jandourek

The Czech Republic has some of the most liberal laws in Europe when it comes to smoking. Now, however, the country’s health minister is working on legislation that would ban cigarettes from all bars and restaurants. Previous efforts to introduce a ban have come to very little – but the minister says the time is now right for such a change.

Photo: Filip Jandourek
For many visitors, a night out in the Czech Republic’s smoky bars and restaurants is like going back in time. Indeed, 17 EU countries have comprehensive smoke-free laws in place, some for a decade or more.

The current Czech legislation, greatly eviscerated before it was approved five years ago, leaves it entirely up to restaurant owners whether they allow patrons to puff on their premises. Efforts since then to follow most of the EU on smoking have come to nothing.

Now, however, there may now be clean air at the end of the tunnel. The minister of health, Svatopluk Němeček, told a newspaper on Wednesday that legislation he has drafted envisages a blanket prohibition on smoking in hostelries.

An earlier version of the bill had included one option under which the ban would apply only where food is prepared, thereby excluding bars.

Svatopluk Němeček, photo: Filip Jandourek
So how likely is this attempt to succeed? I asked Dr. Eva Králíková – a leading anti-smoking campaigner – for her reaction to the minister’s comments.

“This is the first minister of health, unfortunately, who supports a total ban on smoking in public places. So I’m very happy that we have such a minister, currently.”

The minister says that the public are calling for this change. If that is the case, why has it taken us so long to get to this point even?

“You have to ask members of parliament and decision makers. I don’t know [laughs]. I just can say that either they do not or did not have basic information about the health and economic impact of passive smoking, or they are stupid. I have no other explanation.”

People say that the tobacco lobby is quite strong in the Czech Republic.

“Unfortunately that’s true. This is what I tried to say politely before [laughs].”

Eva Králíková, photo: Matěj Pálka
We have seen various attempts in the past to bring in legislation against smoking, to regulate smoking, in the Czech Republic. They have generally come to nothing. How optimistic are you that this attempt may be successful?

“I hope so. What else can I say? We have ratified the framework convention on tobacco controls of the WHO, which requests smoke free spaces, so we have to do it. It’s only a question of when and the tobacco industry is trying to postpone this date, as much as possible.”