Has new Czech anti-smoking legislation had an impact at tram and bus stops?

21-04-2006

At the beginning of the year, the Czech Republic adopted a new law on smoking in public places. In some respects the law goes further than previous legislation by banning smoking not only in public places like schools and government buildings, but also areas outside: train stations, tram and bus stops. This has not been without problems. For example, where does a bus or tram stop "officially" begin or end? The answer is not always clear, calling into question whether the law can actually be enforced. Jan Velinger has details:

When the Czech Republic's law on smoking in public places came into effect earlier this year it provoked no shortage of reaction, especially the ban on smoking at bus and tram stops. In the Czech capital as well as other Czech towns, stops aren't always clearly delineated, leaving some to wonder where they can or cannot "light up". Back in January many smokers we spoke with welcomed the law but were sceptical it would be enforced.

"When I smoke in public areas I usually try and stand out of the way anyway because I know it annoys people. So I think it's a good law, but I don't think they're going to be able to enforce it properly."

"I think its nonsense."

"I think smoking at bus stops is not a good thing. If you want to smoke you can go far away, away from the bus stop. It's not a problem for me."

"I think it's a good law. I think people don't like the smell of smoke when they're at a bus stop. But I think it's going to be impossible to enforce."

So is that last speaker right? Police have since invested countless man-hours into making sure Czechs at bus and tram stops don't smoke, and so far have concentrated on areas where there is little room for dispute. Glass shelters, and curbs that were previously littered with hundreds of cigarette butts, are now cleaner. Ludvik Klema, the Deputy Head of Prague's Metropolitan Police:

"The bill has had an effect. At schools, hospitals, and government buildings, it has certainly been felt. In terms of bus and tram stops - which see a far higher turn-over of people - there has also been an impact. In the first month we had around 1,400 cases - 70 percent of those caught in the act were given warnings or low fines. The rest received higher fines: either as repeat offenders or smokers lighting up in front of children."

As for the difficulty of enforcing the ban?

"We were the first to point out that the bill was not ideal, since it fails to outline clearly where stops begin and end. The bill really should be clearer on this."

In practice that has meant officers restricting controls to areas that are obvious, where smokers clearly stand out. Officer Vaclav Pribyl patrols a busy commuter hub in Prague.

"If commuters are waiting for a tram and smoking in the shelter, well, that's obvious. Sometimes, they argue and claim they're on the sidewalk, but we try to reason."

One older lady, checking a bus schedule, puffed away calmly as we approached.

But, the ban has by-and-large had an effect - one that is only expected to increase in further months. In the hour or so I spent with police only three people were tagged flaunting the law. And, they got off with warnings. But next time they could pay up to 1,000 crowns, the equivalent of 35 euros.

For some that might not seem like much, but for smoking a cigarette, for many it's more than enough.

21-04-2006

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