Little town revises smoking ban after just four months

11-05-2005

Bystrice nad Pernstejnem made headlines in February, for being the only town in the Czech Republic where smoking was banned at all places owned by the municipality. But in the four months since the ban was introduced, there has been a surprising development.

Bystrice nad Pernstejnem, photo: Wikimedia Commons / public domainBystrice nad Pernstejnem, photo: Wikimedia Commons / public domain Bystrice, southern Moravia, has a population of 9,000 and the smoking ban affected the town's sports stadium, swimming pool, "House of Culture", and three pubs and restaurants.

But what did locals make of the ban? All the residents we asked appeared to be in favour of it:

Man: "I think it's good. Whoever wants to smoke should smoke somewhere else. I don't have anything else to say. I'm a smoker and if I want to go there then I just don't smoke. There's nothing to solve here."

Man: "If smoking were banned completely, I'd buy myself some bottled beer and would smoke at home."

Woman: "Luckily I don't smoke so it doesn't affect me."

Man: "I haven't gone to the pub for at least twenty years and it's good this way because the people who make the biggest mess are the smokers."

Former mayor Josef Novotny is the man behind the ban. Last month, when he was still holding the post of mayor, he was optimistic it had worked:

"Of the three pubs or restaurants located in buildings owned by the town, one of them is only open occasionally and has not been affected. Another pub will be closed down in two months, because it is the kind of place where the customers can't imagine not having a smoke while they are drinking. The site is going to be used for a different public facility. And the third one - Restaurant Club - should be able to deal with it."

Shortly after we spoke to Mr Novotny, we visited the Club restaurant, to see for ourselves how it was faring. It was just after noon and yet there were only twelve people in the room, which seats 140. Marek Rosenberg owns the restaurant:

"If they don't put an end to the ban, we're going to have to close down. The number of customers has decreased significantly. In the first month, we recorded a 30% drop in profits. The next month, it was 40%. Some customers - the non-smokers - stayed loyal to us but the smokers now go elsewhere. The problem is that we haven't attracted new non-smoking customers at all. I did not open up a restaurant to be there alone. The way it is now is not acceptable."

Less than a week after we spoke to Mr Rosenberg, the town of Bystrice had a new mayor. In fact, Mr Novotny's introduction of the smoking ban was one reason locals wanted him replaced. One of the first things his successor Karel Paciska did was make changes to the ban:

Bystrice nad Pernstejnem, photo: Prazak / Creative Commons 3.0 UnportedBystrice nad Pernstejnem, photo: Prazak / Creative Commons 3.0 Unported "The town council revised the smoking ban in all places owned by the town and decided to discuss the situation with all the business owners affected. We were happy to hear that they did not oppose the ban as such but wanted a few changes to be made. The Club restaurant, for example, is to maintain the smoking ban during lunch hours and will have a special smoking section at all other times. The local stadium will be a non-smoking area, with the exception of an area by the restaurant, the swimming pool will most probably have a remote area that smokers can go to during the summer months, when the outdoor pool is open."

Clearly, the time is not yet ripe to introduce a smoking ban in the Czech Republic as the only town in the country that attempted to follow the examples of Italy or Ireland has, in the end - after just four months, had to make concessions to its smoking population.

11-05-2005