Queries choke smoking hotline

Health Ministry workers manning a special telephone service providing clarifications to owners of bars and restaurants as well as other citizens regarding smoking restrictions introduced yesterday were overwhelmed with more than 10,000 calls between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., the ministry said. Of the 10,086 calls made to the 1,142 telephone line, around 8,000 were reportedly owners of establishments unclear about the precise implications of the European Union-imposed restrictions on their businesses. A total of 44 complaints, about alleged violations of the new regulations, were lodged on the same number. Official inspections of establishments began on the first day of the new restrictions though offenders were given warnings, according to the general inspector for health matters, Michalis Sabatakakis. «We will be lenient with fines in the first phase,» he told Kathimerini. However Health Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos made it clear that the new regulations would be enforced despite failed attempts to impose similar controls in the past. «It is the first time that this measure will be implemented, to end the myth that we make laws we do not respect,» Avramopoulos told reporters. «Today Greece turns the page,» the minister added, noting that the government would introduce even stricter laws, such as the blanket bans on smoking in all closed public places in other European Union states such as Britain and France, if the new regulations are not respected. Meanwhile, bars and restaurants across Greece appeared to be making the most of their relative freedom. Of those establishments that are smaller than 70 square meters, and which are obliged to choose between declaring themselves exclusively smoking or nonsmoking establishments, the majority had yet to procure the special stickers declaring their status yesterday. In the provinces, the overwhelming majority of smaller establishments are reportedly keeping their doors open for smokers.