11 Gennaio 2005

Italy`s ban on smoking gets off to a fuming start

MILAN Smokers and restaurant owners in Italy were fuming in a rather different way on Monday after a tough new law that bans smoking in public places – one of the strictest in Europe – went into effect.
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As undercover health inspectors and police officers began patrolling cafés and bars, smokers huddled resignedly on sidewalks outside eateries at lunchtime while those inside enjoyed what would be for many their first smoke-free meal.
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“It`s a disaster – my clients all complained,“ said Concetta Gaggiano, owner of the Nico Bar, a usually bustling café in central Milan. “People just ate their sandwiches and left. They didn`t even have coffee. You could tell that they couldn`t wait to light up a cigarette.“
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“Looking at human history, intolerance has caused more damage, even death, than smoking ever did,“ said Andrea Pinketts, a Milan-based crime writer and pro-smoking activist. Vowing to continue to smoke cigars in public or “move to Cuba, where you can smoke even in airports,“ he condemned the law as what he called a Calvinist move aimed at creating a new sort of apartheid.
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Getting people not to smoke in a country where around a quarter of the population does has been a major headache for the Health Ministry, which pushed the law through more than a year ago, giving restaurants and bars 12 months to create sealed-off smoking areas.
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The new law bans smoking in indoor spaces, including offices, unless they have a separate smoking area with continuous floor-to-ceiling walls and a ventilation system. Many bars and cafés in Italy simply are too small to accommodate such a space and still turn a profit.
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In the countdown to the midnight deadline Sunday, only a small percentage of restaurant and bar owners complied with the restrictions, complaining of the high costs of restructuring and the difficulties of restoring historical venues regulated by tough building codes.
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Restaurant and bar owners also vowed that they would fight in court a provision of the law that obliges them to call the police if their customers light up inside.
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Restaurateurs risk fines up to ?2,000, or $2,600, and loss of their license if they do not enforce the law. Smokers face fines of ?27.50 to ?275.
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The first fine, issued a minute after midnight on Monday, was handed out to a 22-year old smoker who was caught lighting up in a bar in Piazza Vanvitelli in Naples, the Italian media reported. “He refused to move to our nonsmoking section so I was forced to call the police,“ the bar`s owner told an Italian radio station on Monday. The unnamed young man was fined ?27.50.
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In many cities around Italy, smokers greeted the ban with protests.
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“We`re worried that this is the first step toward a society where everything is banned,“ said Marino Pessina, who founded the “Io Fumo“ (I Smoke) association on Monday and began collecting signatures for a referendum to repeal abrogate the no-smoking law.
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Anti-smoking laws were first passed in Italy in 1975, although restaurants and bars remained exempt until 2003.
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Citing the 80,000 deaths each year that can be traced to smoking-related causes, Health Minister Girolamo Sirchia made the new no-smoking law a main priority despite the opposition of some members of his own cabinet.
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The minister said that sanctions during the first two months would be light, with health inspectors and police officers advised to play an “educational and preventive“ role. “There won`t be sanctions except in extreme cases, were people act arrogantly,“ he said.
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But consumers` rights groups that have long lobbied against Italy`s permissive smoking culture vowed they would be forcibly affirming their rights to a smoke-free environment. As the ban went into effect at midnight, members of one such group, Codacons, took to the streets and carried out impromptu blitzes, spraying lit cigarettes with water pistols.
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In the European Union, Ireland, Italy and Norway are the only three countries to have total smoking bans in public spaces, while partial bans are imposed in some other EU nations. Smokers can still breathe easily in half a dozen EU countries including Britain, Spain and Portugal.

    Aree Tematiche:
  • FUMO
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