Smoking may return to pubs

A new draft law seeks to weaken the ban that took effect last year

The long saga of ending smoking in pubs may not be over. Some members of the Chamber of Deputies are seeking to overturn parts of the current law.

Smoking has been banned indoors in restaurants and pubs, as well as many other enclosed spaces, since May 31, 2017. Similar laws are common across the European Union.

But there has been a backlash against the law, with many people claiming it went too far. Deputies Marek Benda (ODS), Mikuláš Ferjenčík (Pirates) and Patrik Nachter (ANO) have put forward a proposal to ease the restrictions, and some 86 deputies from eight parties out of the 200 members lower house back the idea.

ODS member Benda has been pushing to change the law ever since it passed, and said at a press conference that he feels he will get a majority in the lower house. The bill would then have to be approved by the Senate and president.

Pirate member Ferjenčík said his whole party supports easing the restrictions. He said that there are now whole streets lined with smokers in front of pubs and nonsmokers have no choice but to walk through the cloud of smoke. Changing the law would protect smokers.

ANO deputy Nachter said the ANO movement is not united on the issue, and each member would be able to vote as they chose.

The proposal says that for pubs up to 80 square meters that do not cook food, the owners can decide whether or not the establishment is no smoking.

Special smoking areas would also be allowed in restaurants, sporting facilities, and cultural facilities. The smoking areas would not have service, so wait staff would not be subjected to the smoke. The areas would not be walkthrough, so nonsmokers would not have to go into them, and the rooms would have their own ventilation system. People under 18 would not be allowed to enter. The smoking areas could be up to 30 percent of the entire space.

Covered outdoor gardens would be exempt from the smoking law.

Another controversial part of the law would also be repealed. Pubs would no longer be held responsible for selling alcoholic beverages to a person who then threatens human health or damages property such as drunken driving.

Passing the no-smoking law took years of effort. 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.

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

Then-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.

Some three out of four people in the Czech Republic favor a smoking ban, according to polling done at the time the law passed.

Only 28 percent of Czech people smoke, which about four percentage points higher than the EU average.

A previous attempt to pass a ban in May 2016 failed to gain enough support, due in part to a proposal calling for bars to serve a non-alcoholic beverage as cheap or cheaper than the lowest-price alcoholic beverage. This provision was not included in the new law. 

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