Czechs clarify smoking legislation but total ban still long way off

The Czech Republic clarified – rather than tightened – its smoking legislation on Friday, when the Senate passed an amendment to the law on smoking in public places. The amendment was very much a compromise between anti-smoking campaigners on one hand, and those trying to protect people’s right to light up in bars and restaurants on the other. But as Rob Cameron reports, a total ban – such as that which exists in many European countries - is still a long way off.

As any visitor to Prague already knows, smokers are mostly free to light up anywhere and anytime they want in Czech bars, pubs and restaurants. The present legislation merely requires the owners of such establishments to divide seating areas into smoking and non-smoking, but when all that means is smoke wafting over from a smoking area into a non-smoking area, that separation is largely imaginary.

The new law attempts to clarify that. From now on – if the president signs it – pubs and restaurants will decide whether they are smoking or not, and will be obliged to say so on the door. Veteran anti-smoking campaigner Boris Šťastný, one of the MPs who drew up the amendment, had this to say to the online news server

“At the moment the situation is absolute chaos. No-one knows where smoking is allowed and where it’s not. All the pub or restaurant has to do is put a sign on the table saying “smoking” and that automatically creates a smoking area. Now, at least, thanks to this new law, customers will know as soon as they walk through the door of the pub or restaurant whether it’s non-smoking or not. Having said that I’m still committed to my lifelong aim - that every pub, bar and restaurant in this country should be non-smoking, without exception.”

The amendment has been grudgingly welcomed even by those who’ve fought every attempt to infringe on the rights of smokers. Their spiritual father is Senator Jaroslav Kubera, rarely seen without a cigarette dangling from his lips. We spoke to him earlier by telephone.

Jaroslav Kubera
“The whole idea of such legislation should be to protect non-smokers, not to prevent smokers from indulging in their vice. This is about freedom. Those who choose to run bars and restaurants as smoking establishments have every right to do so. I’ve visited a number of countries recently with smoking bans, and the law is frequently ignored. And where it’s not ignored, they set up special members-only smoking clubs which the law can’t touch. The whole point of anti-smoking legislation is that it should not be anti-smoker but that it should protect non-smokers. If someone is interesting in reducing the numbers of smokers, then by all means let them try – but they shouldn’t do so by passing laws, but by giving people information.”

Senator Kubera categorically rejects the idea that the Czech Republic is drifting inexorably towards a total ban on smoking in bars and restaurants, such as that already in place in countries such as France, Ireland and Italy. He believes if smoking is banned, it will be beer and sausages next, and says neither Europe nor the European Union has any right to interfere in the sovereign rights of Czechs to light up.