Proposed new law aims to limit risks of passive smoking

This week has been a good one for Czech anti-smoking campaigners. On Tuesday the High Court in Brno supported a lawsuit taken by one tenant in an apartment building to ban his neighbours from smoking on the stairwells and corridors. It is a ruling that has for the first time backed the right of non-smokers to prevent people lighting up in their environment. Now, a proposed new law is to come before parliament, which aims to make it harder to smoke in public places.

In a week when EU health commissioner Markos Kyprianou has called for a blanket ban on smoking in public places across Europe, some politicians in the Czech Republic are gearing up to introduce tougher smoking legislation.

Although public places like bars and restaurants are obliged to have separate smoking areas, these are often right beside smoking zones, which means in effect that non-smokers are not protected from the risks of passive smoking.

One of the people tabling the new draft law is Civic Democrat MP Boris Stastny. He says the proposed amendment is geared to remove the obvious deficiencies in the present smoking legislation.

"The main shortcomings include the fact that non-smokers are not protected against the harm caused by passive smoking in public areas, particularly bars, restaurants and other hostelries. We are trying to ensure that non-smoking areas are separated by a wall and that these places have better ventilation. In this way, smokers can still go to these places while at the same time non-smokers are protected."

Other improvements in the proposed law include giving local authorities discretionary powers to ban smoking in places like children's playgrounds and sports halls. It should also ban smoking in any enclosed public spaces like train-station waiting rooms.

Although previous attempts to tighten up smoking legislation have failed, this particular proposal does appear to have enough cross party support in parliament to be passed when it is tabled.

Anti-smoking campaigners welcome the proposed change but argue that it doesn't go far enough. Dr Eva Kralikova is one of the Czech Republic's leading experts on smoking-related illnesses:

"It's a better law than we have, but it should go farther. It's a proposal which contains the possibility of allowing smoking to continue in extra rooms in restaurants. But even if we have some divided spaces for smokers in restaurants, some waiter or waitress still has to be there and has to enter this carcinogenic space. So smoking should be banned for their sake."

Boris Stastny says that if the proposed law is properly implemented, it should both facilitate smokers - who make up about one third of the Czech population - whilst also maximising the safety of non-smokers.

Campaigners like Eva Kralikova, however, maintains that until more comprehensive anti-smoking legislation like the law that exists in Ireland is introduced across Europe, passive smoking will continue to be a major health hazard.

"Passive smoking causes diseases and death. More than 1000 non-smokers die each year in the Czech Republic because of the effects of passive smoking. Almost 80,000 people die each year as a result of passive smoking in the European Union. 300 people in the restaurant industry die in the EU every year. That's means that one worker is dying every working day because of passive smoking."