A group of MPs from the opposition and more significantly within the ruling coalition have made clear their intent to try and soften legislation aimed at banning smoking at all Czech restaurants, bars and similar premises. Although the proposal passed in a first reading, and was backed by the lower house’s health committee, some MPs view the situation differently, putting forward more than a dozen amendments.
The Czech Republic has long been characterised as one of the last smoking outposts in Europe; that, however, was supposed to change with new legislation introducing a full ban on smoking in bars and restaurants. The latest draft proposal appeared to have the necessary backing than in the past. Now, there is a potential wrench in the works; ahead of further debate, some MPs signalled that the legislation went too far and that they favoured a final bill which would be considerably more lenient.
One group of Social Democrat MPs – members of the ruling coalition which enjoys a majority in the lower house – are in favour of restaurants designating separate areas of the premises for smokers and non-smokers; another option being pursued, Czech TV reported, is for smoking to be banned in restaurants but not a blanket ban, for example, in cafes or bars, where food is not prepared. A third proposal being put forward would be to allow establishments in local towns the option of deciding for themselves to allow or ban smoking on their premises. And still another proposal suggests restaurants with gardens should allow smoking at some of the tables outside. One of the MPs in favour of a softer ban is Štepán Štupčuk of the Social Democrats. He spoke to Czech TV:
As recently as December, the Health Minister Svatopluk Němeček, also a Social Democrat, made clear he was having none of it. Ahead of the first reading back in December, he brought a funerary urn to the podium, reminding lawmakers that smoking shortened lives on average by 15–18 years. He strongly questioned why anyone should have to inhale second-hand smoke. Ahead of Tuesday’s debate in the lower house it was clear there were some areas the minister would have to compromise. One area where he has been willing to negotiate is that of e-cigarettes.
The big question is whether the health minister will have the clout on Tuesday to prevent the bill from being further weakened; without dissent, the coalition would have a comfortable majority to pass even a blanket ban; now though it looks like the final draft will not be quite as strict.