As an opponent of smoking who’s got a dodgy lung, I have for years been a strong advocate of the Czech Republic joining the other civilised countries of Europe and introducing a ban on smoking in bars and restaurants.
However, I could conceive of one large stumbling block to a ban. The cold. It may be fine stepping outside for a puff in milder climes, but we are guaranteed brass monkey weather here for at least a couple of months every year.
As somebody who would ban cigarettes completely if I could, even I thought it would be asking too much of smokers to have to endure, even briefly, temperatures such as we saw in Prague last weekend, when it was -13 degrees Celsius at night.
But the relatively recent efforts of some admirable establishments to bar smoking off their own bat have made me cognisant of an entirely different – and it seems rather more pertinent – obstacle.
With so many nightspots on the ground floors or in the basements of apartment buildings in residential areas, smokers taking their filthy habit outside leads to a separate, evidently intractable, problem: noise.
Take for instance Café v lese in Vršovice, which has been one of the liveliest bars in Prague for a couple of years now. Its owner decided to prohibit smoking in its street-level section (though it is still allowed in the grimy venue part downstairs).
The thing is, it is frequently hopping upstairs till the wee small hours. Which means that at any time there will probably be at least a few smokers, often a sheet or two to the wind, outside.
Their chatter and laughter upsets the neighbours, a lot. Czech people, it seems to me, have an unusual aversion to noise and there is a legal term, noční klid (night-time quiet), defining the period between 10 PM and 6 AM when bars are obliged to keep it down and building work is not permitted.
But a colleague, who is not Czech, lives right next door to V lese and says the bar’s policy has made living there a nightmare. Some locals are, understandably, driven to dementia, frequently complaining to both the bar and the authorities.
For their part, the V lese people have made an effort, hiring a kind of doorman to encourage patrons to be quiet and take their smoking down the street a bit.
Meanwhile, the owner insists he would prefer to shut a thriving business and social hub rather than allow cigarettes back. Frankly I can’t really see a way forward on this matter.