Smokers fines adding up

Smokers often don’t realize that some outdoor spaces are subject to the ban

Smokers in Prague paid over Kč 450,410 in fines since from the end of May to mid-November. Pubs,  restaurants, and bars have been smoke-free since May 31. Many people go outside of pubs to smoke, but in some cases, this is not legal, such as when the pub is at a public transit stop.

“The Municipal Police do not have separate statistics on violation of the Tobacco Act with regard to public transport stops. We only have statistics on offenses related to smoking in places where it is forbidden by law. In addition to the stops, these include restaurants, health facilities, and other places,” Police spokesperson Irena Seifertová told daily Pražský deník.

There were 2,801 violations from May 31 to Nov 15, and 1,434 paid fines on the spot, while 67 went into administrative proceedings. The rest were resolved with warnings or rebukes.

One problem has been when transit stops are temporarily relocated, and areas, where smoking had been allowed, become suddenly fall under the ban, though smokers do not realize there has been a change.

The problem is greater for pubs and restaurants permanently located next to transit stops. These used to be prime locations as they are easy to reach and easy to get back home from. Now setting up a seating area for smoking in front is quite complicated and sometimes impossible.

The Civic Democrats are pushing to re-open the issue when the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Parliament, goes back into session under the new government. The ODS campaigned in part on rolling back the anti-smoking law. The ODS won 25 lower house seats in the October elections, up from 16 in the previous election.

ODS Deputy Marek Benda plans to introduce amendments to the anti-smoking law as one of the first items when the new session starts.

Smokers have faced a Kč 5,000 fine for lighting up where it is not allowed since the law took effect at the end of May. Operators of establishments had 90 days to put up signs informing people where they can and can't smoke and to make other arrangements under the law.

That grace period has expired, and owners of establishments can now be fined for allowing smoking on their premises.

The smoking ban was passed by the Chamber of Deputies in December 2016, and subsequently passed by the Senate and signed into law by President Miloš Zeman, who is a heavy smoker.

Health Minister Svatopluk Němeček (ČSSD) had worked for three years to get the law passed, and there were efforts in previous administrations as well.

Most members of the European Union already have similar smoking bans. Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka (ČSSD) said when the bill was passed that the law will bring the Czech Republic up to the same level as civilized countries regarding protecting the health of its citizens.

At the time the ban took effect, three out of four people in the Czech Republic favored a smoking ban. Only 28 percent of Czech people smoke, which about 4 percentage points higher than the EU average.

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