Smokers banned from bus and tram stops, but free to light up in restaurants

It's just over a week since a new law on smoking in public places came into effect in the Czech Republic. The law has been criticised by smokers as too harsh and by the anti-smoking lobby as too lenient. So what's changed and what's the reaction among the public?

The new law on smoking is seen by experts as one of Europe's more smoker-friendly. The legislation is very much a compromise - introducing stricter rules in some areas of public life and relaxing them in others.

The new law bans smoking in schools, cinemas, theatres, sports halls, offices of the state administration and train platforms. And controversially there's also a new ban on smoking at tram and bus stops. We asked people in Prague what they thought of that particular new rule.

"I'm a smoker and I think it's OK to smoke outside."

Will you continue to smoke at bus stops and tram stops?

"I'm trying to be nice and trying to smoke somewhere else."

"I think it's nonsense. It's nonsense to prohibit people smoking in open places and not prohibit smoking in restaurants in cafes and so on."

"I'm a trying-to-quit smoker, and I think it's a good law. I think people don't like the smell of smoke when they're at a bus stop. But I think it's going to be impossible to enforce."

"I'm a smoker. I think it's a good law. When I smoke in public areas I usually try and stand out of the way anyway because I know it annoys people. So I think it's a good law, but I don't think they're going to be able to enforce it properly."

"I think smoking at bus stops is not a good thing. I think if you want to smoke you can go far away, out of the bus stop. It's not a problem for me."

Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek,  photo: CTK
But policing the ban on smoking at tram and bus stops is proving easier said than done. Police chiefs have said the law fails to define exactly where a tram stop begins and ends. Some forces say they're only upholding the law if people are smoking in bus and tram shelters; others are trying to apply it outside shelters. The result is confusion.

But while the new law has made it harder for smokers to light up in the street, in restaurants there appears to have been a step backwards. The new law reverses previous legislation which banned smoking in pubs and restaurants when food was being served. Smokers in pubs can now light up freely after - or during - lunch.

So while several European countries have introduced a total ban on pubs and restaurants, the Czech Republic appears to be going in the other direction. This weekend Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek - a non-smoker who ran Prague's state-controlled restaurants and canteens in the Communist era - questioned whether a blanket ban on smoking in restaurants was a good thing.