Greece bans smoking, again

Wed Sep 1, 2010 9:51am EDT
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By Renee Maltezou

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece banned smoking in all indoor public places again on Wednesday in yet another effort to persuade Europe's heaviest smokers to kick the habit.

The new socialist government hopes fines and vigilance will work after a similar attempt in 2009 was largely ignored. But many doubt the ban has a chance in a country where more than 40 percent of the population lights up.

"It won't work. No one is willing to quit smoking. It's our mentality. Can you imagine going out, to night-clubs, and not smoking?" said 26-year-old bank employee Iro Karahaliou, puffing away on a bench in central Athens.

As the ban kicked in on Wednesday, smokers filled terraces, balconies and open-air cafes in Athens. The new law forbids smoking in areas such as hospitals, schools, airports, bus stations, taxis, bars, cafes and restaurants.

Inspectors will impose up to 10,000 euros in fines on bar-owners or managers tolerating smoking in restricted areas and up to 500 euros for smokers who break the law.

"Greece is ready for this," said Deputy Health Minister Marilisa Xenogiannakopoulou. "It is a big challenge and I believe we have taken all the necessary steps."

The government says the previous law was weakened by too many exceptions, a reluctance to impose fines and poor policing, but this time around violators will really feel the heat.

Greeks smoke some 32 billion cigarettes annually, spending 4.5 billion euros on the habit, or almost as much as they pay for electricity.   Continued...

<p>People smoke outside of a shop window in Athens' main business district September 1, 2010. REUTERS/John Kolesidis</p>