Greece’s smoking ban for indoor public spaces, first introduced in September 2010, has all but gone up in smoke. Despite government pledges of vigilance and fines, smokers continue to light up in the vast majority of restaurants, bars and cafes.
Anti-smoking laws are only respected in public transport, medical facilities (though not always) and a small number of good, and usually pricey, restaurants. The ban appears to be completely ignored in the country’s tavernas, cafes and bars. Inspections by state authorities have eased dramatically.
“Since the municipal police force was disbanded, inspections have only been carried out if someone makes a complaint to the Hellenic Center for Disease Control and Prevention (KEELPNO),” Attica Regional Authority officials told Kathimerini.
Meanwhile, a four-digit telephone hotline where people could make complaints about alleged ban violations or get information is long out of order.
Currently, a body of public health inspectors set up to carry out on-site inspections only act upon complaints regarding ban violations in hospitals. Recently, a unit visited the Metaxa Cancer Hospital in Piraeus on two occasions to stop visitors from smoking on the premises of the clinic.
Of course one can find exceptions to the rule, as a small minority of smokers choose to respect the official restrictions, even if those are largely breached.
“Our venue was recently booked for an engagement party. We left it up to the guests to decide whether they would light up inside the hall. To my surprise, everyone would pop out for a smoke,” a restaurant-owner in Piraeus told the newspaper. “When I asked why, they said there were kids inside the room and that it would not be fair for non-smokers to put up with cigarette smoke,” he said.
Meanwhile, Health Ministry officials are examining ways to enforce the existing restrictions. “We need to bring the issue back into focus,” Ioannis Baskozos, general secretary of public health, told Kathimerini. “Different priorities may be put forward because of the state that the nation is in, but protecting [public health] from smoking is important,” he said.
Baskozos met last week with Panayiotis Behrakis, chairman of the National Steering Committee for Tobacco Control and president of the European Network for Smoking and Tobacco Prevention, to discuss the issue.
An action group will be set up in the coming weeks with the participation of KEELPNO, the National School of Public Health and the Hellenic Cancer Society.