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Italy's smokers on the streets as ban takes effect
Updated: 2005-01-10 20:49

ROME (Reuters) - Smokers in Italy are lighting up in the streets as a new anti-smoking law comes into effect but some remain defiant, with the first diehard puffer fined for flouting the ban just minutes after midnight.

The new law prohibits smoking in almost all indoor public spaces. It aims to end passive smoking and deter those who pursue a habit that health officials say kills 90,000 Italians a year.

In Britain, the government has announced plans to introduce public smoking bans in England and Wales.

Many Italians started Monday as usual with a strong coffee but the accompanying cigarette had to be smoked on the pavement.

"The decision has been made and we will have to comply, we are all going to smoke outside," Annalisa Proietti told Reuters as she had breakfast with a friend in a Rome cafe.

Some disagreed, however. A young man in Naples became the first person fined for breaking the new law shortly after it came into effect. Local media said he was forced to pay 27 euros (19 pounds), an amount that can rise to 275 euros if children or pregnant women are present.

Cafe owners threatened with fines of up to 2,200 euros for failing to enforce the ban are also unhappy. They are legally obliged to report stubborn smokers to the police.

Trade association Confcommercio plans to challenge the law in the courts.


"Other European countries which have a socially liberal past don't have such oppressive rules. Why should we?" Confcommercio head Sergio Bille said in Corriere della Sera newspaper.

In western Europe only Ireland and Norway have similar bans.

Bars, cafes, restaurants and night clubs across Italy packed away ashtrays at midnight and asked customers to stub out their cigarettes. At Milan's swanky Hollywood nightclub, ashtrays were removed and even the toilets were declared off-limits to smokers.

Smoking is only permitted if separate spaces are sealed off and have smoke extractors. Fewer than two percent of Italy's restaurants and bars have created such smoking rooms.

The law's author, Health Minister Girolamo Sirchia, himself a former smoker, said cigarette manufacturers were conducting a covert campaign to resist anti-smoking measures.

"The tobacco multinationals are behind many of the protests," he said told several newspapers. He said the law respected that smoking was a right, but with limitations.

"The law does not ban smoking, but restricts the places where it is possible to do it. I never dreamed of introducing an absolute ban."

But those who fear that the new law might be just the start of more state controls on unhealthy activity may not be convinced. Sirchia added he would now consider measures against alcohol, such as a ban on advertising.

Ultimately, the smoking ban's success will depend on the will of the people, rather than force, Sirchia admitted.

"Be tolerant, avoid conflicts and the use of lawyers. Politeness is the best way of convincing someone next to you to put out a cigarette," he said.

In some bars, that might prove harder than in others, a member of trade body Confesercenti told Il Mattino, the newspaper of Naples, home of the mafia-like Camorra.

"It's not as easy task," he said when asked how he would deal with a young gangster determined to light up.

"I don't want to risk four bullets in my leg."

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