Anti-smoking law grace period ends

Pubs and restaurants had 90 days to comply with the new provisions

While smokers felt the force of the new anti-smoking law three months ago, pub owners and other businesses had a 90-day grace period from fines and other sanctions. The law took effect nationwide on May 31, and put the Czech Republic's smoking laws in line with those of most of the European Union.

Now that the 90-day grace period has expired, pub and restaurant owners face a fine up to Kč 10,000 for not having no smoking signs, and up to Kč 50,000 for not making smokers put out their cigarettes indoors.

Smokers under the new law now have to go outside of the premises to smoke, which has led to an increase of complaints about night noise or smoke odor reaching residential windows.

Inspectors have found that so far everything has been in order. “We conducted a total of 204 inspections in catering facilities. All the inspections in Prague were in order,” Jan Jarolímek, head of the Prague Hygiene Station said, according to daily Hospodářské noviny (HN).

Not all pubs have gone non-smoking. Some have turned into private clubs, which are not covered by the law. Patrons who want to smoke indoors can become club members. The pub operators who have taken this option expect that courts will uphold their method, according to HN.

Prague 1 launched anti-conflict teams to address the problem of noise on the street, but these got off to a rocky start with complaints that the teams were rude and aggressive. A new company is taking over the patrols as of the start of September. Originally, women were excluded from the teams for concerns that the patrols might face violence but now women will be allowed, based on the idea that they might actually be less likely to provoke a hostile response.

Pub owners surveyed across the country by HN largely looked on the smoking restrictions as unnecessary, and causing more problems that they solved. The operators also were concerned about what would happen in winter when it became impractical to smoke in an outdoor beer garden or on the street in front of a pub.

Some parts of the law also still are not clear. By law, smoking is not allowed in indoor areas, which includes permanently roofed gardens. Some politicians want to revisit the law to make exceptions for gardens with pergolas.

Deputy Health Minister Lenka Teska Arnoštová (ČSSD) said she agreed that the ban under pergolas was not logical, and that the issue was being resolved by Chief Hygienist Eva Gottwaldová.

Parliamentary Deputy Marek Benda (ODS) opposed the law before it was passed and has been leading up efforts to soften it or overturn it. He considers the law unnecessary bullying of business owners.

The anti-smoking law extends beyond a ban in pubs and restaurants. It also prohibits also smoking at airports, health facilities, indoor sports grounds and playgrounds, and puts restrictions on the sale of alcohol. It is no longer possible to sell alcohol via vending machines, for example. Intoxicated minors must be ejected from facilities that sell alcohol.

Shops must separate cigarettes from the other goods and mark them appropriately. Minors must be prevented from using vending machines for cigarettes, and if this is not possible vending machines can't be used. Smoking accessories and herbal or electronic cigarettes cannot be sold to minors, and signs about the ban of sales of cigarettes and alcohol are required, or vendors face a fine.

Compliance with the law is monitored by municipalities, police, hygiene inspectors and the Czech Trade Inspection.

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