Majority back total smoking ban, poll shows

The number of Austrians backing a total smoking ban in pubs and restaurants has soared after a new ruling went into force earlier this month.Opposition party chiefs have criticised the government coalition of Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the People’s Party (ÖVP) for its ruling which forced venues smaller than 50 square-metres to decide between becoming a smokers’ facility or a non-smoking area.Pubs and restaurants bigger than 50 square metres however must provide non-smoking rooms since 1 July. Owners were informed of the measures in January 2009 when the law was introduced, while the interim ended this month. More than 70,000 pubs, discotheques and restaurants across the country are affected.Gastronomy bosses face fines up to 10,000 Euros if they ignore the new restrictions.Now public opinion research agency Karmasin said 52 per cent of Austrians were in support of a total smoking ban in bars and restaurants, up by six per cent to its April poll.Greens, Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) and the Freedom Party (FPÖ) are meanwhile considering pressing on with holding a referendum on the issue.While right-wing rivals FPÖ and BZÖ criticise the new law as “unclear and hard to understand” for both customers and gastronomy managers, the Greens have been campaigning for a total smoking ban for a long time.SPÖ Health Minister Alois Stöger’s announcement that provincial authorities were in charge of checking cafés and eateries stick to the new law drew harsh criticism from some doctors’ pressure groups campaigning for a full smoking ban.The activists fear local officials would mostly ignore violations of the law let alone getting active at all.Stöger meanwhile claimed lobbying groups linked with the FPÖ and BZÖ were to blame for the current law not featuring stricter regulations supporting non-smokers. The minister said he personally supported a total ban, stressing that he failed to turn it into reality due to political and economic opposition.Some gastronomy officials meanwhile warned turnover would drop dramatically for most pub owners and restaurant bosses forced by the new law to turn their venues into non-smoking facilities.Austria has one of the highest rates of smokers among its population in the world. Forty-one per cent of female Austrian adults call themselves smokers, while 27 per cent of men living in the country said the same.The average Austrian smoker puffs 18 cigarettes a day, while the European Union (EU) average is 14.