Dozens of bar and restaurant owners put ashtrays back on their tables yesterday, in clear breach of the recent anti-smoking law, as the government appeared to accept a setback in its aim of banning people from lighting up in enclosed public spaces. Members of the federation of restaurants and bars, POESE, had let it be known in previous days that they would flout the law because they believe that it is hurting their businesses at a time when custom is already dropping off due to the economic crisis. TV images showed customers lighting up in cafes in Athens and Thessaloniki, in contravention of the law. However, Health Minister Andreas Loverdos admitted that the government is being hampered in its efforts to impose the law because of the upcoming local elections. The government had enlisted the municipal police in major cities as the key partner in its effort to impose the ban but it seems that, with voters due to go to the polls on November 7, local authorities are either unwilling to crack down on offenders or have shifted their focus elsewhere. Loverdos said that he will wait until December to get a more accurate picture of whether the law is being applied and stringent checks are being carried out but admitted that the government had suffered a serious blow. «The worst thing that can happen to a lawmaker and a government that has to enforce the laws is for society to refuse to abide by them,» he told Skai Radio. The minister, however, said that there was no way the government would repeal or change the law. «It is not right; it is a Third World action to change a law before it has even been applied or its weaknesses have become obvious,» said Loverdos.