A new law which strictly prohibits smoking in all indoor public places across Greece came into effect on Wednesday.
The road ahead will be difficult, but it is time we change behaviour and accept change in all sectors.
It is the fourth such effort in the decade by Greek authorities which face strong reactions by a nation of heavy smokers.
Previous similar bans in 2002, 2003 and 2009 failed due to loopholes and the Greek tendency to ignore laws.
“This time words will become action. We change page. We change habits with the support of the overwhelming majority of Greek society, smokers included. We take a significant step to improve public health,” said Greek Health Minister Marilisa Xenoyannakopoulou during a press conference on Wednesday.
The Minister is determined to face loopholes.
“Your efforts contribute to our efforts to change attitudes to improve the quality of every day life in Greece, not only the economy,” said Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, who received the health minister and representatives of the Greek anti-smoking committee on Tuesday.
“The road ahead will be difficult, but it is time we change behaviour and accept change in all sectors,” added General Secretary of Public Health Antonis Dimopoulos, a former heavy smoker himself.
Dimopoulos called on Greeks to “quit smoking and win life”, which is the main slogan of the new awareness advertising campaign, before presenting monopoly like board games with anti-smoking messages.
Under the new law, which was voted by parliament this July, the smoking ban applies to all enclosed public areas, from hospitals to offices, malls and restaurants, cafes, buses, metro and taxis with only exception for casinos and night clubs larger than 300 square meters with live music.
Their owners will have a transitional period until June 1, 2011 to comply.
Individuals and owners of the rest of indoors spaces have a transitional period of one month to fully respect the ban.
From September 1 they will get warnings from municipal police and from October 1 this year they face fines from 50 to 500 euros (63 to 630 U.S. dollars) for individuals and 500 to 10,000 euros (630 to 12,630 U.S. dollars) for companies.
As a motivation for the strict implementation of the law the central government decided to give an 80 percent of all revenues from fines to local governments.
Restaurant and cafe owners who will repeatedly not comply with the ban and allow customers to light up cigarettes, face the prospect of closure for ten days on the fourth time and permanent closing down the fifth time they do not respect the law.
Entrepreneurs at Syntagma square in central Athens in front of the Parliament building, argue that the measure is implemented in a difficult time for them, since they already estimate severe losses of revenues due to the economic crisis and they struggle to survive.
But they acknowledge that the measure is more fair than the previous idea of creating separate areas for smokers and non smokers indoors, which demanded a significant amount of funds from owners to raise glass walls to keep the two groups apart.
With a ban without exceptions, competition is more fair for owners of small cafes and restaurants.
Heavy smokers such as 36-year-old waiter George Panagopoulos who repeatedly asked for 5-minute breaks from work on Wednesday to go outdoors and smoke, are not ready to accept the change.
“We will find ways to resist somehow. First they make cutbacks on our wages and allowances, then our pensions. Now they try to enforce smoking ban everywhere. What comes next? Not breathing? We should not accept it,” said Panagopoulos.
Other fellow smokers though, like Vangelis Prasakis, start thinking that “it might be about time to follow other European citizens’ example and simply stop harming ourselves”.
The new law also places restrictions on tobacco advertising and the sale of cigarettes to minors.