Few smoking fines levied in Prague

Inspectors issued fines in only two cases since the ban took effect

Very few fines have been given out for violations of the anti-smoking law in Prague. Since the law took effect at the end May 2017 to the end of March this year, some 712 inspections were carried out by the Prague Hygiene Station. Fines were only given out in two cases in the capital, and these amounted to Kč 7,000.

Nationwide, there were 10,810 inspections and 423 fines for a total of Kč 311,000.

Smoking was banned indoors in restaurants and pubs, and in cultural facilities. It is permitted in outdoor gardens, as long as they are not next to a public transportation stop.

Czech Senator Jaroslav Malý (CSSD), who is also a physician, has mapped and compared data on the inspections in all regions. He says the amount of fines mentioned does not have a deterrent effect. The highest number of inspections occurred in the Ústí nad Labem region, where fines totaled Kč 121,000.

One way that people have been circumventing the law is by using an exemption for temporary construction, where smoking is allowed, and another is by calling places a private club, according to inspectors.

A problem with enforcement is that people often simply put out their cigarettes when asked and then leave the establishment. The inspectors then have very little cause to follow up on a case.

Hygienists have limited enforcement powers and often need the help of police to force a suspected smoker to identify themselves or otherwise cooperate, especially if the accused smoker is intoxicated.

The ban has been popular with the public. Some 71 percent of Czechs support the ban on smoking in restaurants. The ban is opposed by 12 percent of people, according to a survey of the Faculty of Social Sciences of Charles University made in cooperation with the Ipsos agency on the one-year anniversary of the ban.

People also go to restaurants more often than three years ago, according to the survey. Traffic has increased mainly due to customers who rarely went in the past, mostly non-smokers.

The survey found that about a quarter of people smoke in the Czech Republic, and 28 percent of smokers are strongly opposed to not smoking in restaurants.

The drop in consumption of draft beer reported by breweries seems to be unrelated to the smoking ban. Instead, younger drinkers prefer other beverages.

Still, there are efforts to roll back the law. Lower house deputy Marek Benda (ODS) is the main force behind the repeal efforts. He wants an amended law that would allow operators of smaller pubs and bars to decide whether to be smoking or nonsmoking. He also wants to allow separate smoking areas is restaurants, theaters, cinemas, cultural facilities and sports venues.

The amendment would also abolish holding servers responsible for giving alcohol to an adult who then causes damage due to intoxication.

The ban has already shown positive health effects. Smoking-related illnesses have dropped since the smoking ban in bars and restaurants took effect at the end of May last year across the Czech Republic.

The Institute of Health Information and Statistics (ÚZIS ČR) compared the number of hospitalizations for the first six months of the smoking ban in restaurants with the same period when they were still smoking.

In particular, 13.1 percent fewer people died due to a heart attack in the hospital, and 730 fewer were hospitalized. Angina pectoris is down 16 percent, coronary artery disease is down by 15 percent for patients up to 60 years old. Asthma patients under 60 were hospitalized by 11 percent less.

The impact of other diseases such as such as cancer or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease caused by passive smoking will take longer to see, according to health officials.

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