The health ministry has come back with amendments to a bill banning smoking in public buildings and open-air spaces, rendering the legislation less draconian.
The changes relate to the crucial point in the bill – smoking in open spaces and work areas.
In the previous draft, smoking would have been prohibited in common public spaces, even if these were considered to be outdoor.
For example, no smoking would be allowed in restaurants with an outdoor parlour or veranda, where the indoor and outdoor areas were connected directly by a door, even if the door was shut most of the time.
Bars and restaurants would have therefore been required to separate the indoor and outdoor spaces through a corridor, or to build an outdoor lounge completely removed from the inside in order for smoking to be allowed there.
Now, with the amendments, this requirement for complete separation of indoor and outdoor spaces has been scrubbed. Smoking will be allowed in the outdoor area on condition only that the two spaces are separated by a sliding door.
In the bill, as it now stands, an open space is defined as that which may be surrounded by walls on all sides but which does not have a roof and has “adequate ventilation.”
Alternatively, an open space is that which has one side completely open, and the open side must correspond to at least 20 per cent of the total walls’ perimeter.
Meanwhile smoking will still be prohibited at hospitals, inside and outside, as well as at children’s playgrounds.
Another major tweak to the bill is that smoking is to be allowed at the workplace, but only in open areas. Under the previous draft, it would have been against the law to smoke even outdoors at the workplace.
This would have meant, among other things, a ban on smoking at and around hotel swimming pools, because that area was considered a workplace for the hotel employees.
But less draconian minds seemed to have prevailed.
The extreme nature of some of the bill’s clauses prompted one MP, during discussion at the House health committee, to remark, tongue-in-cheek: “Why don’t you ban smoking and cigarettes altogether and be done with it?”
Harsh penalties are provided, with fines reaching €2,000 and the suspension of operations of a non-abiding business for up to four days, with the option for a court to extend that penalty.
But some MPs are considering lowering the fines.
Another pending matter relates to a discrepancy, where the bill specifically mentions that smoking is to be allowed indoors at the mooted casino.
Lawmakers say this would constitute discrimination against all the other establishments.
The bill aims to replace the existing law on smoking controls and to align national legislation with the European Union’s Tobacco Products Directive.
Cyprus has already been tardy in harmonising with the directive, and faces a possible fine from the EU unless it acts within the next six to eight weeks.
The House health committee is scheduled to revisit the smoking bill next Thursday, where MPs hope to reach consensus so that the item can forwarded to the plenum for a vote by the end of the month.