Greece pushes to move ahead smoking ban by summer

Greece's health ministry is pushing to implement a ban outlawing smoking in all public places, including restaurants, bars and offices by the summer - a half year earlier than required by law, reported dpa.

The new law does not require implementation until January 1, 2010. But Greek Health Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos announced in parliament that the ban would be pushed up by six months, to take effect July 1, 2009.

The new law will have a heavy impact on a nation where nearly 45 per cent of the adult population smokes, and where smoking in offices and cafes is seen as a traditional pastime.

The government has already banned smoking in hospitals and taxis and requires restaurant and bar owners to designate smoking and non- smoking areas to safeguard public health.

However, the measures have been widely ignored. The Health Ministry has said the new law is aimed at saving the lives of an estimated 6,000 people who die every year from smoking in Greece.

Under the new law, smoking will be banned in public places, including all bars and restaurants, offices, hospitals and on all forms of public transport. The restrictions will also apply in all outlets that produce and sell food.

Avramopoulos said he decided to implement the law in the summer, because he believed that businesses and citizens would have an easier time adapting to the new law during the warmer months, when many sit outdoors.

Under the new law, there will be designated areas set aside for smokers in offices. The bill also aims to keep minors under the age of 18 from smoking and consuming alcohol by banning their access to bars and clubs.

It will also impose a fine of 1,000 euros (1,276 dollars) on the owners and managers of bars and nightclubs that fail to respect the restrictions.

Repeat offenders will face fines of up to 20,000 euros and have their licenses revoked. The bill also foresees similar fines for those caught selling cigarettes to minors.

Unlike most of the rest of the European Union, Greece has no age limit on the purchase of tobacco, according to the World Health Organization.

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