Smoking ban could be law this time
Health minister also aims to promote soft drinks at the expense of alcohol
Posted: January 16, 2013
The Health Ministry has proposed legislation that would ban smoking in pubs and restaurants, to the dismay of many restaurateurs.
Proposed more than once in the past but always shelved, a ban on smoking in pubs and restaurants could finally become law in the Czech Republic after legislation was presented by the Health Ministry.
The plans from Health Minister Leoš Heger (TOP 09) have been criticized by the Hotels and Restaurants Association of the Czech Republic (AHR ČR), although many bar and restaurant owners support the moves.
"About 60 percent of restaurants are nonsmoking, or they have a completely separate area for smokers. What we are saying is that it makes no sense to make it become law. This is something that opposes, in our eyes, the freedom of open business," said Václav Stárek, the association's president.
The organization argues that rules introduced two-and-a-half years ago requiring nonsmoking sections to be enclosed, and which led many restaurant owners to spend heavily on modifications, are sufficient.
As well as banning smoking in pubs and restaurants, Heger's bill would also introduce a raft of other health-promoting measures.
It would make it illegal for tobacco or alcohol to be sold through vending machines and at kiosks, and it would also allow heavy fines to be levied on those selling alcohol or tobacco to anyone underage.
The legislation, which could take effect from 2014, would compel pubs and restaurants to offer a soft drink as their least expensive beverage and could lead to punishments if drunken young people are found on the premises.
There have been previous attempts to introduce a smoking ban, but this time the proposals may have a better chance of becoming law, with Boris Šťastný (Civic Democrats, ODS), head of the Chamber of Deputies' health committee, having told media a majority of members favor the legislation.
Bar and restaurant owners in the center of the capital also seemed largely in support, although some had concerns.
Tomáš Breburda, owner of Bresto Restaurant and Vinotéka, would like to ban smoking in his venue but fears without legislation outlawing smoking in restaurants, this would mean business would be lost to establishments that allow customers to light up.
"In Italy and France, there is already [a ban]. Why do we have to be last again? Because we are Czech?" he said, as a female customer a few yards behind him sat at a table puffing away.
Trade at some venues might be lost from longstanding regulars who always enjoyed a smoke with their drink, conceded Michal Kačírek, manager of Na Blbým místě. He said most people, however, would accept a ban, and he supported it.
"Maybe just the small pubs with regulars; maybe for them it will be a problem, because they will get used to it more slowly, and they may prefer to stay at home," he said.
Restaurants catering to smokers could suffer "a negative impact on business," said Max Munson, owner of two Jáma bars and restaurants in Prague, although he saw a ban as inevitable.
"I have read that overall, in the beginning, there's a decrease in business. Whether it's weeks or months or a year, the business will return," he said.
Studies have offered conflicting evidence on the effect smoking bans have on the hospitality industry.
Research from Charles University and IPSOS tied in with Munson's analysis, indicating there might initially be a small fall in revenue, once venues go smoke-free, but that this is only temporary.
AHR ČR has warned, however, that some bars and restaurants could be forced out of business if the ban goes ahead.
According to Martin Dockrell, director of research and policy at the U.K.-based anti-smoking organization Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), it is "demonstrably untrue" that smoking bans harm the hospitality industry.
"The landlords and restaurants are fed this argument [that trade will suffer], and they believe it. The tobacco manufacturers know it's not true. We have sufficient evidence to test the claim," he said.
After a smoking ban in pubs was introduced in England in 2007, he said the number of licensed premises increased over subsequent years, despite the recession.
Just as many countries in Western Europe have had smoking bans for several years, so the trend is strengthening in Central and Eastern Europe, with legislation taking effect in Poland in 2010, although this allowed venues to retain a separate smokers' room, and in Ukraine Dec. 16 last year.
Tereza Stárková, 32, a public relations professional currently on maternity leave looking after her daughters aged 1 and 3, is among those keen for the Czech Republic to follow suit.
"If there are people smoking [in a restaurant], I don't go there with my children. I don't think anybody would," she said.
Others, among them 67-year-old retiree Varoslava Drtinová, take a different view.
"I will stay at home because when I go out with some company, I want to enjoy a drink and have a cigarette," she said.
- Monika Ticháčková contributed to this report.
Daniel Bardsley can be reached at
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