Slim hope for attempt to toughen up toothless anti-smoking legislation

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Toughening up the Czech Republic's rather toothless anti-smoking legislation is back on the agenda this week, but those hoping for a strict ban along the lines of Italy or Ireland are likely to be disappointed. An amendment to the existing law on smoking in the workplace is due to be discussed in parliament. The proposals are hardly earth-shattering, but even so they're unlikely to succeed.

Czech rules on smoking in public currently date from a law passed in 2005, regarded by anti-smoking campaigners as something of a dog's dinner. For example the law bans smoking in restaurants and other places where food is served, but allows owners to permit smoking in so-called "designated smoking areas."

In practice this means pubs and restaurants can place a sign in one part of the room saying "smoking area" and a sign in the other saying "non-smoking area". You don't need a degree in physics to realise that smoke travels from one part of a room to another, and is breathed in by both non-smokers and staff. Dr Eva Kralikova from Charles University is a veteran anti-smoking campaigner.

"It's not just about bad smell or bothering, it's the health threat. Because passive smoking is dangerous to the health, not only of people coming to the restaurant to have something to drink or eat, but it damages the health of employees of the restaurant. They are in the restaurant the whole day, and they are working in a carcinogenic and mutagenic environment without any relevant information about it. Not to smoke in a restaurant is a very easy measure, so why not do it?"

A group of three coalition MPs have drafted an amendment to the 2005 law, allowing smoking only in separate rooms fitted with adequate ventilation. The amendment would also clarify the ban on smoking at tram and bus stops, which at present is so vague no-one knows how to police it.

But even this relatively mild amendment has a slim chance of being approved in parliament. The cabinet - which has been studying the MPs' proposals - has adopted a neutral stance, but says the amendment is full of legal loopholes. Previous attempts to toughen the existing legislation have failed miserably. MPs are under strong pressure from restaurant and pub owners, who worry if Czechs can't smoke, they'll vote with their feet.

Certainly those Czechs hoping for a total ban on smoking in the workplace places along the lines of Ireland, Italy, Norway and Sweden and - in the very near future - France and Great Britain - will have to wait a good deal longer. For now they'll have to put up with second hand smoke, or go somewhere else.