ATHENS – There will be no let-up in enforcing a decade-old No Smoking law that had been ignored in Greece, Alternate Health Minister Vassilis Kontozamanis said, pledging there would be no exemptions.
He said the law will be enforced “to the letter” with inspectors aided by police doing spot checks on restaurants, cafes, bars, taverns and other public places although it wasn’t said if Parliament workers and Members of Parliament, who smoked openly while the law has been in effect, would be fined if they continue.
The pledge came a few days after Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis unveiled his government’s plan to crack down on smoking in public places, immediately sending out teams of inspectors although it wasn’t said if that would be across the country and in smaller towns where the law is openly flouted.
Some large nightclubs and other venues had asked to be exempted because they have allowed smoking in defiance of the law, but Kontozamnis said that wouldn’t happen.
“We all know that governments in the past did not dare to fully enforce the law,” Kontozamanis told SKAI. “Things have changed.”
Asked whether any concessions could be granted for casinos, betting shops and nightclubs – where opposition to change has been most vehement – Kontozamanis said there would be no exceptions.
“If we start with the loopholes, the law won’t be enforced,” he said. He added that the government’s key aim was not to raise revenue but to protect public health. “It is the state’s duty to protect, to inform, to warn people, and that’s what we’re doing with the full ban on smoking,” he said.
Fines are being imposed, including three food outlets in the suburb of Nea Smyrni and on customers who were smoking.
The 1142 hotline set up for citizens to report violations of the smoking ban in public spaces received 374 calls on Nov. 20, some 108 were from citizens asking for information on the law, 87 reporting violations and 55 were from people asking for help to quit smoking.
Saying it kills 20,000 people a year at a cost of one billion euros annually, Mitsotakis hailed his government’s action plan against smoking as a “bold initiative for protecting public health” that would “modernize and refine public life,” although some restaurant and bar owners said they won’t comply.
Cigarette taxes have repeatedly been raised during a more than 9 1/2-year-long economic and austerity crisis in a bid to bring in more revenues but has boomeranged, driving more people to buy cheaper cigarettes smuggled in from other countries, especially Bulgaria, and with bootleg cigarettes sold openly on street corners.
The taxes bring in as much as 2 percent of Greece’s Gross Domestic Product of 181.4 billion euros ($200.3 billion) with no government for the past decade willing to go beyond issuing press releases vowing to get tough and enforce the no smoking law but none has yet.
Greeks notoriously has ignored similar pledges by past governments with the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA’s alternate health minister, Pavlos Polakis, smoking in the Health Ministry – even at a No Smoking Day conference – in nightclubs and telling the European Commissioner in charge of health who complained about it to butt out and daring anyone to stop him.
Fines will range from 100-1,500 euros ($111-$1659) for smokers and from 500-10,000 euros ($553-$110) for establishments which allow it.
He said enforcement has shown 70 percent compliance although there haven’t been reports of any major fines or prosecutions and with many establishments still flouting the law and allowing customers to smoke, even encouraging it.