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VIENNA (Reuters) - After years of heated public debate, Austria's government decided on Friday that it will ban smoking in cafes and restaurants in 2018, having passed a law six years ago that forced eateries to seal off non-smoking areas.
The chamber of commerce said it was looking at taking legal steps against the ban in a country famed for its cafe culture and where smoking is above European averages. France, Britain, Italy and some German provinces have introduced similar bans.
Cafe owners who go completely smoke-free by July 2016 will get a special one-off bonus to offset costs at least partially.
"We are strengthening the protection of non-smokers in Austria, but also take into account the interests of businesses which have already invested in the spatial separation of smokers and non-smokers," APA news agency quoted Conservative Economy Minister Reinhold Mitterlehner as saying.
But not everyone was convinced.
"Incredible. What are we going to do? You know that Austrians like to smoke when they drink coffee," said Elzin Nicevic, manager of a cafe on Vienna's Ring boulevard.
The head of Austria's right-wing Freedom Party, Heinz-Christian Strache, whose party is neck and neck in opinion polls with the two centrist coalition parties, said he would scrap the law should his party win parliamentary elections in 2018.
"We don't need enforced joys such as this failure of a law," the heavy smoker said of the bill, which parliament is expected to pass within months.
Reporting by Shadia Nasralla and Michael Shields; Editing by Louise Ireland