Ministry to lighten smoking ban

The Health Ministry is reportedly planning to significantly soften a blanket smoking ban introduced in September following «tremendous pressure» from bar and restaurant owners who claim the changes, together with the impact of the economic crisis, are ruining them. According to sources, the ministry is considering permitting smoking in cafes and bars after 9 p.m. while keeping the blanket ban in place for restaurants. Cafes and bars that decide to permit smoking would not be allowed to serve patrons aged under 18, according to the amendments reportedly under consideration. The ministry’s general secretary, Antonis Dimopoulos, said authorities have been besieged by complaints from bar and cafe owners claiming to have seen their business plummet. «We cannot ignore reality,» Dimopoulos said. «We did not expect such tremendous pressure from business owners.» Dimopoulos said many bar and cafe owners claimed to have lost customers to rivals defying the ban. It remained unclear which, if any, of the aforementioned measures the government would adopt and whether these changes would be acceptable to the European Commission, whose regulations Greece must adhere to as a member state. If the changes are made, they will probably be announced in the first week of December after a conference on smoking being organized by the ministry in Athens in cooperation with Harvard University.