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NICOSIA (Reuters Life!) - Die-hard smokers in Cyprus will finally have to curb the habit when one of the last EU smoking havens imposes a January 1 ban on puffing in public places.
Lawmakers are poised to pass tough new regulations banning smoking in public places, replacing an existing law which is regularly flouted.
Come January 1, smoking will be prohibited in restaurants, bars, nightclubs and workplaces, with planned hefty fines for those caught having a puff.
Nightclub owners are not amused. "Music, alcohol, and cigarettes go well together," said Phytos Thrasivoulou, head of the Cyprus Federation of Restauranteurs.
Cyprus is just below the EU-27 average with 29 per cent of the population smoking, according to a 2008 European poll. However the findings of a state survey earlier this year showed Cypriot children to have alarming levels of nicotine in their blood.
Traces of metabolized nicotine were found in 94 per cent of children from non-smoking households and 97 per cent of all surveyed children.
It is believed that public opinion on the island is strongly in favor of the proposed law, with a lifestyle survey earlier this year showing 88 per cent of the population supporting a smoking ban in indoor public places.
While the island banned smoking in public places in 2002, the existing law is not strictly enforced and Cyprus ranks second to neighboring Greece with the percentage of the population exposed to smoking at work at 45 per cent. Smokers still light up in bars and nightclubs.
Lawmakers have insisted that there would be no half measures or loopholes in the new legislation that would allow it to become exploited by businesses eager to bend the rules. Smoking would only be permitted in external areas as well as "open internal areas" such as courtyards.
"Given that this change will bring about a change in attitudes and mentality, there will be a window of time for people to get used to the idea," said Stella Kyriakidou, an MP chairing a committee dealing with public health issues.
Some Cypriots doubt whether the law could ever be enforced.
"Like so many other things in our society, we will probably not follow the rules and neither will the adequate checks exist," 21-year-old Andreas Christodoulides said.
The proposed legislation on tobacco smoking in Cyprus threatens hefty fines for those flouting the ban, with smokers and businesses facing fines of up to 2,000 euros for breaking the law.
"We would like that the government look into creating specific categories of venues which would include music bars and nightclubs, where there are designated areas for smoking," Thrasivoulou said.
Editing by Michele Kambas and Paul Casciato