Italy pushes restaurant smokers into a corner

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The Independent Online

Italy has put a bold new anti-smoking law into effect, giving the proprietors of the nation's 200,000 bars and restaurants the choice between banning smoking in their premises altogether or confining smokers to their own corners.

Italy has put a bold new anti-smoking law into effect, giving the proprietors of the nation's 200,000 bars and restaurants the choice between banning smoking in their premises altogether or confining smokers to their own corners.

The smoking sections must be equipped with powerful and stringently specified air-conditioning. Owners have 12 months to introduce the changes or face a fine of €2,000 (£1,408).

The measure is to be followed on New Year's Day by a ban on cigarette vending machines being operational between 7am and 9pm. Underage smokers will have to confront tabaccheria shopkeepers face-to-face if they want to satisfy their craving - or wait until the machines are reactivated at 9pm.

The government intends to plug this obvious loophole in future by making access to such machines restricted to people with electronic identity cards, that prove they are adults. But that remains a pipe dream for the moment, or as the Ministry of Health put it yesterday: "The technical modalities and characteristic applications of the relevant software will be decided according to a specific protocol of agreement between competent institutions and associations."

Smoking is still immensely popular in Italy. There are about 19 million smokers in a population of 58 million, comprising 33 per cent of men and 19 per cent of women. According to a survey in La Repubblica, between 75 and 80 per cent of them say they would like to stop.

Officially at least, Italy has encouraged quitters for years. Its first law banning smoking in public places was passed in 1975, and been universally ignored ever since.

Plans to toughen official attitudes have been in the works for some time. More than a year ago, the Health Minister, Girolamo Sirchia, said: "A ban on smoking in public places and in private places open to the public will be law before the end of the year." He went on: "It is important for Italy to pass a law conforming to European rules. This law is not a crusade against smokers, but a way to protect non-smokers."

Now the promised law has arrived. In the coming months, Italians will discover if it is merely the latest addition to the mountain of Italian laws which are respected more in the breach than the observance, or whether behaviour will begin to change. A tough new law passed this year on driving offences, menacing multiple offenders with the loss of their licences, brought about a precipitate drop in accidents. It remains to be seen if the smoking law will have similarly dramatic effect.

¿ On 1 January, Ireland will become the first European country to ban smoking in pubs, bars and restaurants. The ban comes into effect on the day it assumes the presidency of the European Union.

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