Finnish-style crackdown long way off in Czech smokers' paradise

Photo: Kristýna Maková

Finland made international headlines recently with news that its government plans to completely eradicate smoking – not just a ban on smoking in public places, that already exists, but the total and final eradication of smoking amongst the Finnish population. It’s a lofty goal to be sure, and has reignited the smoking debate in other European countries, many of which have banned smoking in cafes, pubs and restaurants. The Czech Republic, however, like most former communist states, seems to be trailing behind.

Photo: Kristýna Maková
Around a quarter of all Czechs – 2.5 million people - are smokers, addicted to a drug that will eventually kill one in five of them at huge expense to the state. Many, of course, want to give up. Those that do often find themselves at the Tobacco Dependence Treatment Centre in Prague.

The director of the centre is Dr Eva Králíková, one of the country’s most vocal anti-smoking campaigners. She’s particularly concerned about the effects of passive smoking, and is disappointed that new legislation due to enter into force in July falls short of a total ban on smoking in pubs, cafes and restaurants. She says even the law’s provision that non-smoking areas must be separated with a wall does not go far enough.

“Unfortunately you have to open a door to go there, and of course the air will be mixed. It’s similar to a swimming pool where you can piss in one corner and then suggest the rest of the water is clean. Only a 100% smoke-free environment is safe.”

Photo: Kristýna Maková
Smoking is already banned on trains, trams and buses, and is increasingly rare in the workplace. But pubs, restaurants and cafes are still overwhelmingly smoker-friendly. From July 1st they’ll be obliged to put a sticker on the door to say whether the establishment is smoking, non-smoking or mixed with a separate smoke-free room. Analysts predict that most will choose the first option, in a bid not to lose customers.

But for many Czechs attempts to eradicate smoking is part of a crusade by interfering busy-bodies, egged on by health fascists in Brussels. Senator Jaroslav Kubera, a heavy smoker with a deep belief in personal freedom, told Czech Radio recently he didn’t like the way things were going.

“The fact of the matter is that non-smokers aren’t looking after themselves, they’re just aggressively attacking those who smoke. All these regulations are ridiculous. They’ll be banning certain kinds of food next. States are interfering in people’s lives in more and more ways. George Orwell was spot on when he described the future in 1984 – believe me, it’s getting closer.”

Anti-smoking campaigners suspect the powerful tobacco industry is behind the failed attempts to introduce a total smoking ban. A leading Czech newspaper claimed recently that representatives of three international cigarette companies actually work as assistants to MPs. As long as the tobacco industry enjoys unfettered access to lawmakers, say the anti-smoking campaigners, a Finnish-style crackdown on smoking is simply out of the question.