Indifference about smoking goes up in smoke

Dramatic re-enactment of smoking

A topic very much in the news these days is smoking in the Czech Republic. First, there is the outrage over the Philip Morris report enumerating the economic advantages of the early death of smokers, on which we reported the yesterday. Further to that, the cabinet is to discuss a new bill on smoking and alcohol consumption submitted by Health Minister Bohumil Fiser. Olga Szantova reports.

Dramatic re-enactment of smoking
The immense interest in smoking legislation and health issues connected with smoking is unprecedented and unexpected in this country. For years, the topic was only broached by some members of the medical profession and a very few activists, but generally speaking, smoking has been accepted as a fact of life and most attempts by non-smokers to speak up for their rights have been considered pedantic. When the controversial Philip Morris report was first completed, it did not meet with any protests in the Czech Republic. We here, at Radio Prague, were probably the first to air it - on June 26th, but there was no negative response until two or three days ago, when the Czech media reported that American anti-smoking activists were protesting against the report. Then the British media took up the story and it became an international issue.

Czech laws are still quite lenient towards smokers and society in general even more so. True, there were smoking bans on local public transport, and in theatres and cinemas, at a time when it was still acceptable to smoke in such places in Britain. There is no smoking in hospitals - officially, but you still find patients smoking in out-of-the-way corners without nurses telling them off - they can't, because they themselves smoke in their rooms.

For 12 years now the law has stipulated that every restaurant must have a special area for non smokers, and if it can't provide this, smoking should be banned throughout the restaurant during lunch and dinner time. But you'd have to look hard for a restaurant that complies with that law. When the daily newspaper Mlada fronta Dnes looked into the problem, its reporter was told over and over again that enforcing the law was bad for business and many were ignoring it. Mlada Fronta Dnes also asked its readers to phone in and tell of their experiences - the paper's Marketa Belikova told me the response was unexpectedly high.

People expressed their surprise that here was a law valid for 12 years being completely ignored without any consequences, Marketa Belikova sums up. Now, I'd add that one of the reasons is the general attitude towards smoking. And that's what the bill proposed by Health Minister Fiser is hoping to change. First - in restaurants, instead of setting aside a room for non-smokers, there should be a part reserved for smokers - non smoking is to be the accepted norm. That attitude is to be enforced in all public places and the fines for breaking it are to be much higher. The law is wider, dealing with numerous aspects of tobacco, as well as alcohol consumption. The question now is whether the cabinet will approve it and pass it on to parliament. The outlook is quite promising, in spite of the fact that Prime Minister Milos Zeman is a heavy smoker. The majority of ministers are non-smokers.

Author: Olga Szantová
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