Failure of smoking ban bill sparks coalition war of words

Photo: Filip Jandourek

The latest failed attempt to ban smoking in Czech pubs and restaurants has left the country’s government looking distinctly shaky. Since Wednesday’s lower house vote coalition partners ANO and the Social Democrats have each been blaming the other for the collapse of the much-discussed bill.

Photo: Filip Jandourek
A motion to ban smoking in Czech pubs and restaurants fell eight votes short of approval in the Chamber of Deputies on Wednesday.

The bill originally prepared by the Social Democrat minister of health, Svatopluk Němeček, had been approved by the coalition. However, only 13 of ANO’s 47 deputies voted with the rest of the government in the lower house.

The Social Democrats immediately cried foul, with leader Bohuslav Sobotka accusing ANO of ensuring the country remained an “outdoor museum” of smoking. “It’s a disgrace!” tweeted Mr. Sobotka.

Minister Němeček echoed those sentiments on a Czech Television debate show.

“I regard today as a tragic day in the Chamber of Deputies as regards protecting the public from smoking. The Chamber killed a bill that was worked on for a very long time. It will take us a long time to get back to where we were.”

Svatopluk Němeček,  photo: Filip Jandourek
ANO representatives have shot back furiously. They say that the legislation rejected had undergone so many changes in the lower house – including allowing for smoking areas in pubs – that it actually ended up being a pro-smoking bill.

ANO chief Andrej Babiš lashed out at the Social Democrats’ assertion that his party had served the tobacco lobby in Wednesday’s vote.

“The prime minister is lying. It’s not true… It wasn’t the coalition bill. The vote was on a bill that was amended by the opposition MP Marek Benda. Why wasn’t Mr. Němeček against? You should ask him.”

As the war of words escalated Mr. Babiš said that he was “disgusted” by the whole matter. The coalition won’t last much longer if things carry on like this, he said.

Andrej Babiš,  Bohuslav Sobotka,  photo: CTK
The outcome of the vote was welcomed by many in the restaurant business, who feared a decline in customer numbers if the ban went through. President Miloš Zeman, frequently seen with a cigarette in his mouth, also greeted the news.

Anti-smoking campaigner Dr. Eva Králíková says she is disappointed by the decision – but believes no law may be better than a bad one.

“I was very much surprised by the Czech minister of health, who supported smoking parts in restaurants… In the end when the members of Parliament voted against the whole it’s maybe better than to have smoking corners or smoking spaces in restaurants.”