Czech senators challenge smoking ban

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A group of Czech senators are calling on the Constitutional Court to abolish certain provisions of the recently approved anti-smoking bill, including a ban on smoking in restaurants and sale of alcohol in vending machines. The senators have succeeded in collecting the minimum twenty signatures needed for the Constitutional Court to deal with the matter.

Jaroslav Kubera, photo: CTK
The long-awaited bill introducing a broad ban on smoking in restaurants and other public places was finally signed into law in February this year. But even before it has come into effect, a group of Czech senators have questioned some of its provisions, arguing that they infringe on citizen’s freedoms and taking the matter to the Constitutional Court.

According to smokers’ rights advocate, Senator Jaroslav Kubera of the Civic Democrats, the smoking ban imposed by the law is not a health protection measure. The senator told Czech Radio that the legislation would infringe on citizen’s freedoms and their right to make a profit. He also said implementation of the legislation will thwart investments made by thousands of bar and restaurant owners in the country:

“These businessmen invested millions of crowns into various equipment, such as air-conditioning and air-cleaning devices, in order to comply with the existing legislation. And suddenly they are faced with new rules, which are, by the way, more severe than anywhere else in Europe.”

Smoker’s right advocates are also challenging the provision that transfers responsibility for damage caused by drunk people to pub and bar owners.

Furthermore they also want to lift the restrictions the law imposes on the sale of alcohol and tobacco products at events primarily designed for children.

The comprehensive anti-smoking bill, which has been debated for years, was finally signed into a law in mid-February. It is supposed to protect non-smokers, including for example, personnel at restaurants and pubs who were at a permanent health risk from second-hand smoke.

Under the new legislation, smoking will no longer be allowed at eating establishments and pubs but also in designated areas at cinemas or sports venues. The only place consumers will be allowed to smoke in drinking and eating establishments will be in so called předzahrádky meaning outdoor seating.

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Senator Jiří Dientsbier of the Social Democratic Party agrees that certain parts of the new legislation may be questionable. However, he doesn’t regard it as unconstitutional.

“I can definitely imagine some minor changes being made in certain provisions, for example consumption of alcohol. On the other hand, the legislation was approved as it is and I definitely don’t regard it as unconstitutional. We can debate whether such severe restrictions are really necessary, but I certainly wouldn’t question its constitutionality.”

The broad smoking ban is set to come into effect in the Czech Republic on May 31, which is, incidentally, World No Tobacco Day.