Government plans legislation to protect non-smokers

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The Czech government has approved a new law that will, if passed by Parliament, introduce new measures to protect non-smokers and help reduce the numbers of children taking up the habit. Smoking in public buildings and at bus stops would be illegal, as would selling cigarettes to those under the age of 18. Nick Carey has this report:

Although the number of Czech smokers has dropped in the past ten years, the latest official figures show that up to forty-seven percent of Czech men, while only twelve percent of women, are smokers. This means that roughly one in five Czechs, or two million of them, smoke. Twenty thousand people a year in the Czech Republic die of smoking related diseases. And not all of them are smokers, but those who live or work in close proximity to heavy smokers. Amidst rising fears caused by the dangers of passive smoking, the Czech government has decided to take action to protect non-smokers.

The new "anti-smoking" law, as it has been dubbed, was proposed by Health Minister Bohumil Fiser, and aims, amongst other things, to bring Czech anti-smoking legislation in line with EU norms. If the version approved on Monday by the government becomes law, then various anti-smoking measures will be introduced. Smoking will not be allowed in any public buildings, at bus stops, tram stops and train stations. Restaurants will be obliged by law to reserve up to forty percent of their seating for non-smokers, in areas that are well ventilated. Furthermore, Czechs will not be allowed to smoke in restaurants during lunch and dinner hours, from twelve to two in the afternoon, and from six to eight in the evening. A total smoking ban will be introduced in school grounds to discourage underage smoking.

This is not the only measure in the law that is aimed at reducing the number of child smokers in the Czech Republic. The minimum age for smokers will, if the law is passed, be raised from 16 to eighteen. Any shop owners found selling cigarettes to minors will face a fine of up to five thousand Czech crowns, as will parents who offer their children cigarettes. Cigarette vending machines will be removed, and supermarkets will not be allowed to display tobacco products, but will be able to provide them on request. All sweets shaped like cigarettes, either chocolate or chewing gum, will be banned. This last measure will, says Health Minister Bohumil Fiser, help prevent children from thinking that smoking is all part of being a grown up.

According to Mr. Fiser, the proposed law is not intended to restrict or repress personal freedoms, but to reduce public tolerance of smoking via persuasion. Although anti-smoking campaigners will no doubt back the proposed law, the Health Minister now wants to obtain public support. The proposal needs to pass through both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate before it can come into effect on June 30th, 2001. As anything could happen on the way, Mr. Fiser will need as much help as he can get.