JUST ONE day after Health Minister Rudolf Zajac appealed to the country's smokers to quit their bad habit, the cabinet approved a new law to better shield non-smokers from Slovakia's smoking population, estimated to be 34 percent strong.
The new non-smokers' protection law updates the country's legislation, which was approved for the fist time in 1997 but was difficult to enforce, according to the Health Ministry.
The new law extends smoking bans by areas such as bus stations, elementary and secondary schools, healthcare facilities, and waiting rooms, and increases penalties for breaking the rules. Individuals ignoring non-smoking bans will be fined up to Sk5,000 (€120), while cigarette vendors and tobacco producers could pay between Sk100,000 (€2,471) and Sk10 million (€247,121) if caught selling tobacco products to people under 18.
The law also enables municipalities to approve additional smoking bans in their towns and cities in the form of binding municipal directives.
The new law is in line with EU recommendations to member states that, among other aspects, order tobacco producers to cut down the content of tar and nicotine in cigarettes.
One cigarette can include a maximum of 10 milligrams of tar and 1 milligram of nicotine. The new law also introduces a limit of 10 milligrams of carbon monoxide per cigarette.
"Smoking really damages your health," said Zajac, himself a former heavy smoker.
"This law is not about fines and restrictions. It is a basis for the further elimination of opportunities for the spread of the smoking population," he said.
Health groups campaigning against smoking have welcomed the new legislation although many complained that the original draft was softened during the cabinet discussion.
Zajac told journalists that several Christian Democrats, including Justice Minister Daniel Lipšic, erased some of the intended bans from the bill.
Lipšic, who does not smoke, voted to keep the possibility of smoking in closed meetings.
Education Minister Martin Fronc, who is known for his passion for smoking a pipe, pushed through the exception that smoking in student dorms will not be banned altogether and that students will be allowed to puff away in special rooms.
The law must still be approved by MPs and would take effect in June 2004.
In line with the new law, warnings will have to cover 30 percent of the front and 40 percent of the back of cigarette packages with approved health warnings.
The warnings include Smoking kills, Smoking seriously damages your and other people's health, Smokers die younger, Smoking causes lung cancer, Protect children: do not let them breathe your smoke, Smoking may cause a slow and painful death, and Smoking may damage sperm and decrease fertility.
Zajac also said that the new law would introduce bans against false advertising labelling cigarettes as mild or light.
"All expressions that give the impression that some cigarettes are less harmful must go. Light cigarettes are not healthier," he said.
Róbert Ochaba from the State Faculty Health Institute said that the new law was needed because people do not report violations of the law.
"We want to encourage people to report the breaches. In the past, the law was not adhered to in practical life and the penalties were also too low," Ochaba said.
Mária Hrehová from the anti-smoking initiative Stop Smoking welcomed the new law.
"Modern people do not smoke. But those who want to smoke will do it anyway. It should be ensured, however, that smokers don't hurt people who don't want to smoke," Hrehová said to the Slovak daily Pravda.
The Health Ministry, meanwhile, expects that the new legislation would also save the state some money by decreasing the number of smokers.
The legislation's white paper stated that the new law would help cut some of the public money that currently goes to the treatment of diseases caused by smoking.
"In 1993 the state expenses for treating diseases [related to smoking] were 13 times higher than the state income from the [taxes paid to the state from the] sale of tobacco products. Currently these expenses are much higher and continue to grow."
Smokers in Slovakia
* 34 percent of Slovaks smoke - 43 percent of men and 26 percent of women
* 46 percent of adults smoke, 32 percent every day and 14 percent describe themselves as occasional smokers
* 52 percent of youth between 15 and 29 smoke, of which 29 percent are regular and 23 percent occasional smokers
* Smoking in Slovakia is on the rise, especially among the younger generations
* On average, every adult Slovak smokes 2,360 cigarettes per year
* 26 percent of Slovak smokers have tried to quit and were successful for at least a certain period of time
* 47 percent have tried to quit but failed
* 27 percent have not tried to quit at all
23. Feb 2004 at 0:00 | Martina Pisárová