Anti-smoking bill makes new progress

A draft law has made its way out of the lower house medical committee

In latest turn in the long-running saga of anti-smoking legislation in the Czech Republic, members of the lower house of Parliament could prohibit smoking in cars with children. As for restaurants, the possibility to set up separate smoking rooms was not accepted, according to an opinion by the lower house medical committee on the pending draft of the anti-smoking law. The bill now has to go back to the full house for a reading, and then go to the Senate and be signed by the president before it becomes law.

The bill was introduced to create a complete ban on smoking in restaurants, bars, cafes, wine bars and other similar establishments. The new restrictions should apply from next May, rather than from the start of the new year, according to the committee recommendation. Smoking in bars and restaurants is already restricted in much of the European Union.

More than 20 proposed changes to the bill were considered by the medical committee of the Chamber of Deputies. The Ministry of Health supported only technical changes in the wording to make the law easier to enforce.

The fate of outdoor smoking in restaurant gardens is still undecided. The draft of the anti-smoking law calls for a ban, but most members of the medical committee say it should be left up to individual restaurateurs to decide whether to have a smoking or a non-smoking garden. A proposal to allow smoking in self-service rooms in restaurants was not approved. This provision had been a stumbling block in May when the bill was last voted on in the lower house. A proposal to create smoking halls in cinemas, exhibition halls and sports venues also did not get approved. Marek Benda (ODS) was among the people pushing for more places to allow smoking. He claims that the smoking rooms are just for people who want to use them, and they don't infringe on non-smokers' rights.

A ban on smoking in prison was not modified by the committee. Also, a proposal calling for bars to serve a non-alcoholic beverage as cheap or cheaper than the lowest-price alcoholic beverage was rejected. Critics said it would just lead to tap water being sold at inflated prices, when in many cases it was already free. Sale of alcoholic beverages in vending machines will also not be allowed.

A smoking ban will also be extended to the uncovered parts of public transportation stops and zoos.

Only two people of the 15 people present from the committee objected to the draft, Benda and fellow ODS member Bohuslav Svoboda.

The full lower house of Parliament will have a chance to submit proposals when the bill has its second reading.

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