It was difficult to understand why the new smoking law approved by just one vote by the legislature on Friday sparked such an angry reaction from some opposition parties. Admittedly, the absolute ban on smoking indoors stipulated by the old law was slightly amended, but its main provision – banning smoking indoors – was largely left untouched.
Some hotels will now be allowed to have rooms for smokers as well as a closed off indoor area for smokers as long as its air ventilation system is not connected to the rest of the hotel. This does not seem such an outrageous amendment, considering most hotels would keep the number of rooms for smokers to a minimum if they decided to offer any at all. And why should they not have a closed off indoor space which could be used by smokers if hotel management chose to offer such a facility? There are smokers’ rooms in the airports as well.
Speaking on a radio show on Tuesday, Edek leader Dr Marinos Sizopoulos took the politically incorrect position that smokers also had rights. As long as there was closed off areas for them to indulge in their harmful habit, without inflicting passive smoking on anyone else, he said, everyone’s rights were protected and it is difficult to disagree with this common sense approach, even though it challenges the wisdom of the supporters of a total ban.
What were less clear, were the regulations governing smoking in outside areas that were adjacent to ‘no smoking’ areas. This would be permitted if there was a permanent structure such as a door completely separating them, which seems always to have been the case. The other trick many restaurants, bars and cafes have resorted to for years was to close off an outside space on three sides and label it an outside space in which smoking was permitted.
The new law stipulates that 30 per cent of the outside smoking area should be open. This would be difficult to measure and in effect allows restaurants and bars to carry on with the old arrangement permitting smoking only in partially open areas; in winter these areas are all but closed off. The critics of the new law have a point, protesting about this provision even though it is nothing new. It has been the way all establishments have got round the smoking ban ever since it was imposed. If the deputies of Akel, Diko and the Greens wanted to stop this practice they should have done so instead of complaining.
The smoking law was not the outrage these parties claimed – if it allowed smoking in the casino it was understandable – because it also banned smoking in open areas at schools and hospitals which was a step in the right direction. Some small compromises were admittedly made to satisfy restaurant and bar owners, but is this not how things have always worked in Cyprus?