The first week of the smoking bans in Greece saw some minor changes to people’s attitudes in Athens where people could be seen congregated outside public buildings taking group smoking breaks.

A new, stricter law on smoking was introduced last Wednesday, July 1, in Greece, Europe’s heaviest smoking nation.

Lighting up in hospitals, schools, vehicles and all public places is now banned.

Until now, legislation introduced in 2002 restricting smoking areas had been widely ignored.

Yiannis Koutromanos, who owns a periptero (kiosk) in central Athens heralded the new smoking ban as a positive measure.

“It’s all a matter of habit, as long as it’s enforced,” Mr Koutromanos said. Some 42 per cent of the Greek population smokes and 20,000 people a year die from cigarette-related diseases, which cost the health ministry more than two billon euros.

According to their size, restaurants, bars and cafes must either provide a smoking space, or decide whether they are smoking or non-smoking.

It remains to be seen whether the Greeks, many of whom perceive it as an infringement on their civil liberties, will abide by the new legislation.

“Greeks in general don’t like to be told what to do,” said non-smoker Marios Gartaganis.

“They are also very lax about rules and regulations. In hospitals, there’s been a non-smoking ban for years and yet people smoke in hospitals.”

At around three euros (AUD$5.20) a packet, cigarettes in Greece remain cheaper than in most other EU countries. However, the government hopes fines of up to 2,000 euros ($3,511) will dissuade both smokers and cafe owners from breaking the new law.

Sophia Moutaki, a smoker, is hopeful the new measures will be enforced and abided by, despite the minor inconvenience it will cause for smokers.

“It’s only fair that us smokers follow this new law. Us Greeks must realise it’s for the greater good of our country, not just in terms of our health but also as a matter of national pride to prove to the rest of Europe that we are capable of abiding and enforcing uniform laws.”


Smoking hotline in meltdown

Greek Health Ministry workers manning a special telephone service providing clarifications to owners of bars and restaurants as well as the general public regarding smoking restrictions introduced last week were overwhelmed with more than 10,000 calls between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., the ministry said.

Around 8,000 of the 10,086 calls received were reportedly from owners of establishments unclear about the precise implications of the European Union-imposed restrictions on their businesses.

44 complaints, about alleged violations of the new regulations, were also made to the hotline.

Official inspections of establishments began on the first day of the new restrictions though offenders were given warnings, according to the general inspector for health matters, Michalis Sabatakakis. “We will be lenient with fines in the first phase,” he said.

However Health Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos made it clear that the new regulations would be enforced despite failed attempts to impose similar controls in the past.

“It is the first time that this measure will be implemented, to end the myth that we make laws we do not respect,” Avramopoulos told reporters. “Today Greece turns the page,” the minister added.
Avramopoulos went on to say that that the government would introduce even stricter laws, such as the blanket bans on smoking in all closed public places in other European Union states such as Britain and France, if the new regulations are not respected.

Many bars and restaurants across Greece appeared to be making the most of their relative freedom. Of those establishments that are smaller than 70 square metres, and which are obliged to choose between declaring themselves exclusively smoking or nonsmoking establishments, the majority had yet to display the special stickers declaring their status.