Austria’s Health Minister Sabine Oberhauser (SPÖ) has said that she wants a decision on implementing a full scale ban on smoking in public places made in parliament before summer. She said that the relevant bill is currently being worked through “step by step”.
Oberhauser will be holding talks with Vice Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner (ÖVP), as well as with representatives from the catering industry and Finance Minister Hans Jörg Schelling (ÖVP) about possible compensation for any loss in business that bars and restaurants fear they will suffer.
Even die-hard smokers, when arriving in Austria, are surprised by the clouds of blue haze filling bars and restaurants, long after the rest of western and central Europe stubbed out puffing in public places.
A partial smoking ban came into force in Austria in January 2009, but the list of exceptions was long.
Small cafes and restaurants under 50 square metres (500 square feet) can ignore the ban, while larger establishments need only provide a non-smoking section.
Oberhauser refused to comment on a proposal by Family Affairs Minister Sophie Karmasin (ÖVP) that under-18s should be banned from buying cigarettes, saying that the priority now was to ban smoking in restaurants.
According to international figures Austria has the highest rate of teenage smokers.
A Don’t Smoke campaign in Austria recently gained momentum after the tragic death of prominent journalist Kurt Kuch of lung cancer at the age of 42.
The former chain smoker was a vocal supporter of the Don’t Smoke campaign and said that taking up smoking was the worst decision he ever made.
The Don’t Smoke campaign has pledged to award a free holiday in the Dolomite mountains to whoever collects the most signatures by the end of January for its petition supporting a stricter smoking ban and better protection for passive smokers and young people.