Greece aims to extinguish its addiction to smoking

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The Independent Online

A fresh crackdown on smoking started in Greece yesterday, with the government outlawing cigarettes in enclosed public spaces and placing new limits on tobacco advertising.

Under new regulations, anyone who breaks the rules by lighting up indoors in public will face fines of between €50 and €400. Business owners could be fined up to €10,000 or lose their licences.

It is the second such attempt to curb tobacco addiction in Europe's biggest-smoking nation in just over a year. It is estimated that more than 40 per cent of Greek adults smoke – well above the EU's average of 29 per cent.

Prime Minister, George Papandreou, says the smoking ban is aimed at protecting public health.

He said: "It will contribute to the work we're doing that's aimed at changing attitudes, norms and behaviour to improve our quality of life." As well as an advertising campaign, the health drive will involve the distribution of an anti-tobacco board game to children.

But many people are sceptical about the likely efficacy of the ban. Previous efforts to dissuade Greek smokers have proven in vain, and the country gets through 32 billion cigarettes every year, at a cost of €4.5bn. The total health costs to the country are about €2bn. Heavy rises in taxes on tobacco have had little effect.

Last year's measures were largely ignored by the public, with their swift failure blamed on too many exceptions, lax policing and a reluctance to impose fines. The more stringent rules this time around have not proved popular amongst smokers.

"It's a fascist measure. There can be separate venues for non-smokers," says Dimitris Parchas, 63, a lift technician, sipping his grainy Greek coffee in a traditional café in Athens, where men traditionally go to play backgammon and cards – and smoke, of course. "I will keep on smoking", he insists. "And if they fine me, they can send the fine to the central tax revenue service. We don't have any money to pay."

The ban has prompted fears of a decline in business for bars and restaurants, particularly when an eight-month exception has been granted to multi-seat live music venues – the notorious bouzoukia clubs – and to casinos. "A measure should be imposed on everybody or on no one. We are also professionals", says Yannis Alabanos, co-owner of Galaxy bar in central Athens. But, he adds, "it might be bad for business but it will be good for public health".