smoking ban

Petition pushes for Czech smoking ban

Expert says MPs who vote against anti-smoking laws are either ‘stupid or corrupt’

About 300 benches around Prague are displaying posters in support of a campaign for smoke-free restaurants, a petition that has attracted more than 115,000 signatures to date.

Campaigner Dr. Eva Králíková of the Center for Treatment of Tobacco Dependence at General Teaching Hospital said organizers of the “Stop kouření” (Stop Smoking) campaign were ready to bring the petition to Parliament “to officially present our demands as soon as possible.”

She told The Prague Post that campaigners were waiting for a resolution to the doctors’ pay dispute to ensure their petition gets as much attention as possible.

Králíková said the new poster drive came after Dušan Harok, owner of outdoor advertising firm AD-Net, offered 300 spaces on tram and bus stop benches free of charge.

“I find this very encouraging that people spontaneously support activities leading to smoke-free restaurants,” Králíková said.

The campaign started three years ago and has run online with accompanying radio advertisements on a number of stations including Country Radio, Kiss, Beat, Radio City and Rádio Blaník.

Králíková, who is also a member of the Charles University Faculty of Medicine, insisted the health benefits of public smoking bans were “clearly proven,” adding she believed “any MP who votes against smoke-free legislation is either totally stupid or corrupt.”

She pointed out that that the risk of heart attack caused by smoking was “about the same for an active or passive smoker,” adding that 10 countries that had smoke-free public indoor spaces had seen these cases fall by as much as 17 percent.

“This would equate to about 5,400 fewer acute coronary syndromes yearly here,” she said. “The law would cost nothing – smokers just light up outside – but we are paying about 500 million Kč each year for hospitalizations because of sudden heart attacks that could be prevented.”

Králíková said opinion polls have shown that as many as seven in 10 adults support a smoking ban in restaurants.

Dragging behind

One such poll, a European Commission-funded study that surveyed more than 25,000 people across the EU in 2009, found that 65 percent of Czechs were either totally or somewhat in favor of such a ban.

However, this rating was also the second-lowest of the 27 member states, with an EU-wide average of 79 percent support.

A recent analysis by the World Health Organization gave the Czech Republic just four out of 10 rating for its smoke-free policies, faulting the country for its lack of a smoking ban at universities, indoor offices, restaurants and bars.

Under the latest version of Czech anti-smoking laws, which came into effect July 2010, restaurants must place stickers on their windows indicating if they allow smoking or not.

The changes also mean smoking in shopping malls is effectively banned, except where cafés or restaurants are separated by walls.

While stressing the effectiveness of current bans on smoking at education and health centers, public transport, cultural venues and other places, Health Ministry spokesman Vlastimil Sršeň said a ban on smoking in bars and restaurants was a future possibility.

“The Health Ministry is not indifferent to this problem and certainly does not rule out updating the law in the future toward further enforcement of passive smoking protection,” he told The Prague Post.

Dr. Tomáš Zábranský, specialist at the Addictology Center of Charles University, said he believed the country was doing better than other former communist states, even if it compared poorly with richer nations.

“I would see the Czech Republic somewhere in the top half of the worst-afflicted Western countries, but at the same time somewhere in the top 30 percent of least-afflicted former communist countries,” Zábranský told The Prague Post.

He cautioned that the situation here could get worse rather than better in the coming years given the present high rate of smoking among youth and called for severe punishment of selling cigarettes to minors to counteract this phenomenon.

Zábranský also urged for aids that help people to quit smoking to be made more widely available and less expensive.

“Introducing some harm reduction measures – i.e. nicotine substitution options that are cheaper than overpriced nicotine chewing gum and patches – would be successful in reducing smoking in the lower economic strata, where it is most concentrated,” he said.

While acknowledging laws on smoke-free areas were “insufficient, and what’s worse, allowing for a variety of interpretations,” Zábranský said he opposed a complete ban on smoking in bars and restaurants.

“We know from alcohol policies around the world – and from cannabis policy in the Netherlands – that economic incentives and strict enforcement of rather liberal laws works much better than draconic and unenforceable legal and other regulative measures,” he said.

Pioneered in California in 1990, the idea of banning smoking in public indoor spaces has spread around the world over the past 20 years.

Ireland was the first country in the world to enact such a ban in 2004, with many other European states and countries worldwide introducing similar measures.

CEE smoking facts & figures

Country    Smokers    Smoke-free    Lung cancer policy rating    deaths*
Czech Republic     25%    4/10    55.7
Hungary     34%    5/10    75.1
Poland     29%    6/10    55.5
Slovakia     25%    8/10    37.2

* per 100,000 people
Source: World Health Organization, data for 2005-09

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