No exceptions in smoking ban

Health Minister Andreas Loverdos said on Tuesday that the enforcement of a ban on smoking in public places would be intensified after Prime Minister George Papandreou turned down a proposed amendment to the unpopular measure aimed at bringing in tax revenue for debt-ridden hospitals.

?The smoking ban will not change, it will be enforced,? Loverdos said. The minister heralded the deployment of an additional 800 or so state inspectors to boost checks on the enforcement of the smoking ban and said there would be weekly announcements of the effectiveness of these checks so that authorities keep track of ?who is inspecting and who is not inspecting.?

Loverdos noted that municipal authorities and their police forces were either inadequate in size or lacked the will to enforce the smoking ban. ?In some cases there is no municipal police force or it is very small while in other cases mayors are unwilling to give the necessary orders,? the minister said. Both Loverdos and his deputy, Michalis Timosidis, spoke of a discrepancy between the number of complaints lodged regarding alleged violations of the smoking law and the number of fines issued. In the case of some municipalities, there have been thousands of complaints made but only a few hundred fines issued.

Plans to boost the enforcement of the smoking law have been put into effect at the exhortation of Prime Minister George Papandreou, who attended a biministerial meeting with Loverdos on Monday.

According to sources, Papandreou asked Loverdos to properly enforce the law and not create any exceptions or loopholes.

Papandreou rejected a proposed amendment to the law that foresaw the issuance of permits to nightclubs and bars that would be taxed in a bid to boost the cash-strapped government?s coffers. Loverdos had envisaged the proceeds of such a tax going toward the country?s debt-ridden state hospitals. According to sources, a preliminary assessment suggests that such a measure could raise 60 million euros from casinos and large nightclubs alone.

The ban on smoking in enclosed spaces was introduced last September to bring Greek law into line with European Union legislation but has met with vehement opposition by the owners and patrons of many bars and clubs and has been been enforced only sporadically.