Smoking still thrives in Balkans, but for how long?

Fri Oct 17, 2008 1:30pm EDT
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By Zoran Radosavljevic

ZAGREB (Reuters Life!) - Many Western visitors to the Balkans are dismayed to see taxi drivers or office clerks light up at work. Smoking is almost a way of life here, but the trend is starting to change.

Croatia -- where almost 13,000 people, the size of a small town -- die of smoking each year, became the first to take more concrete steps on Friday, when parliament passed a tough new anti-smoking bill.

The law banning cigarettes from all public places takes effect almost immediately, a move certain to displease almost one third of the European Union candidate country's 4.4 million people who smoke. Only cafe and restaurant owners will have a six-month transition period.

The law also restricts any smoking-related media campaigns.

"We want to do something for our health and catch up with European standards," Health Minister Darko Milinovic told parliament when presenting the bill this month.

The World Health Organization said in a report this year smoking bans were an effective way of improving health. A ban enforced in Italy in 2005, for example, has led to a sharp fall in heart attack rates, by 11 percent, researchers said.

So, the ban is likely to improve quality of life here, but will almost certainly impact cafe owners, who depend very much on smoking clientele, but face a fine of up to 150,000 kuna ($28,180) if found in violation.

Mate Vrkic, 49, owner of a small cafe squeezed among stands at an open air market in Zagreb, is already despairing.   Continued...