EU to ban smokers from bars and cafes?

BRUSSELS – The European Union’s head office said yesterday that it was studying whether to draft new EU rules to ban smoking in all bars, cafes and restaurants across Europe, in another move to force smokers to kick the habit. EU spokesman Thorsten Muench told reporters that EU Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne and EU Social Affairs Commissioner Anna Diamantopoulou were looking at options for a complete ban. «They agreed to look into this measure, what possibilities are there in light of protection of workers at the work place to deal with the smoking issue,» Muench told reporters. Byrne said his department was working «to try and see in what way we can bring forward policy that is directed at this problem,» he said in an interview with the EU website. Ideas of a full ban are likely to meet with widespread opposition from bar and cafe owners, many of whom depend on the cafe smoking culture for their livelihoods, especially in southern European countries Spain, Greece and Italy, where up to 40 percent of teenagers smoke. Several EU countries already have plans in the works to outlaw smoking in restaurants, bars and cafes, leaving smokers the only option to smoke on outdoor patios and terraces. Both the Netherlands and Ireland will introduce such bans as of January, angering smokers and the catering industry alike. In the Netherlands the catering industry says the ban would result in the loss of 50,000 jobs and 1.3 billion euros ($1.5 billion) in revenues annually. They also argue the move will just drive tourists and cafe clients across to neighboring Belgium or Germany, where local laws still allow smoking. In Ireland where pubs remain the hub of communities, and where 30 percent of people smoke, just 37 percent preferred the government’s plans to enforce the ban nationwide, starting January 1, in a poll published earlier this month. Muench said however, the EU executive commission had no powers itself to enforce the law, and could only suggest EU-wide guidelines. «This would be up to member states to decide to implement legislation or other effective measures,» he said. Muench added that planning was still at an early stage and would involve discussions with both EU governments and businesses. Plans on a total ban are part of the EU’s get-tough approach to smoking. New EU rules adopted last year will outlaw tobacco ads in newspapers and magazines on the Internet and at international sporting events beginning in 2005. More than 500,000 Europeans die of tobacco-related diseases each year, and advertising plays a crucial role in encouraging tobacco smoking, the EU says. The EU has also launched a «just say no» anti-smoking media campaign.

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