United Press International
News. Analysis. Insight.
January 11, 2005
Feature: Italian smoking ban draws fire
ROME -- Tobacco's place in Italian culture rivals that of wine and coffee, but now smokers will have to carry out their ritual outside public
buildings -- to the distress of many and the defiance of some.
The ban on indoor smoking took place in some Italian cities and regions on Monday, in others on Tuesday, and in a handful weeks or
months from now. But as of 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, smoking in public buildings without especially constructed non-smoking areas in Italy
was illegal in about 95 percent of Italy where 97 percent of the population lives.
With the ban in place, it was not hard to find a few places defiantly ignoring it despite fines of up to $361 for individual rule breakers and
$2,896 for establishments that allow smokers to break the rules. A hour-long stroll around the center of Rome on Tuesday found three
establishments still allowing smoking inside, though two did so while posting someone outside to send a warning if the authorities
were to approach. Workers at the establishments did not speculate on how long they intend to carry out their defiance, but their rhetoric
did not lack fire.
"Our fathers died fighting the fascists, the Nazis, and the communists and now we are finally giving into tyranny," Carlo, the 55-year-old
owner of one bar, told United Press International, asking not to be further identified. He complained that if the law were enforced, many of
his customers would decide to stay home.
Renato Torino, 50, a patron at another of the bars that still defiantly allowed smoking, said the requirement made no sense.
"They say the law is to protect me from my vice," he told UPI. "If they are concerned about my health, then why do they want me to stand
outside to smoke in the cold and the rain?"
Officially, the rhetoric surrounding the law is about the protection of others from second-hand smoke. But it is the law's requirement of
making it an offense for restaurant or bar owners to allow smoking on the premises and not just for smokers themselves to light up that
makes it unusual. That is a take on Italian law that has been successful in enforcing other controversial measures, such as the
requirement to use a helmet on a motor scooter (police officers who do not fine violators can themselves be fined).
In a statement, Italian Health Minister Girolamo Sirchia, a former smoker, warned potential cheaters against taking the risk.
"The police are not joking," he said. "They can enter anywhere they please, even private offices."
Unofficially, though, officials have said that the first two months of the requirement would be a transition period, when fines would be on
the lower end of the range and levied only when unavoidable, in order to give people time to become accustomed to the law.
An anti-smoking law was first proposed in 1992, and the current version was finally passed in 2003. Originally, it was supposed to go
into effect on Dec. 31, but a few extra days were added so that revelers could enjoy the holidays with smoke in their mouths. The last
area where the law will go into effect is the autonomous province of Bolzano, which pushed back its enforcement date until July to allow
more time for the province's bars and restaurants to construct legal smoking areas -- a status that an estimated 10 percent of Italian
establishments have reportedly met.
With the new law, Italy joins Norway and Ireland among the European countries to introduce tough anti-smoking legislation in the last
year. That is an unusual development in one of the last European countries to have had a government-run tobacco company -- Eti SpA
was privatized only in 2003. In fact, until the 1980s, Italy had more smokers per capita than any country in the world. Though the numbers
are less then half their 1983 peak, around 26 percent of Italians are still regular smokers.
According to one group that purports to represent smokers, Il Fumo, that is a voting bloc too large to ignore.
"Smokers represent a quarter of the total population and around 40 percent of all voters," a spokesman for the group told UPI. "That's a
group of voters who will not be pleased when they go to the polls."
Political leaders predicted that after initial opposition that the law would become accepted without problem.
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