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  ‘Ashtray of Europe’: Austrian MPs vote to scrap smoking ban
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Last EditedIndyGeorgia  Mar 22, 2018 06:11pm
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News DateThursday, March 22, 2018 05:10:00 PM UTC0:0
DescriptionAustrian MPs have scrapped a smoking ban in bars and restaurants that was scheduled to come into force in May, despite a petition in its favour collecting 545,000 signatures.

The overturning of the ban, which was introduced by the previous government, was approved by lawmakers from the ruling coalition of the conservative People’s party and the far-right Freedom party (FPO).

In an attempt to pacify critics, MPs also voted to raise the minimum age for smoking to 18 and to ban smoking in vehicles if a minor is present, effective from 2019.

Scrapping the ban was a key pledge made in last year’s election campaign by the leader of the FPO, Heinz-Christian Strache, who is now the vice-chancellor.

He argued that a ban would infringe on “freedom of choice” and that he wanted to protect restaurant and bar owners whose businesses would be affected.

Austria is one of Europe’s last havens for tobacco lovers and is nicknamed by anti-smoking campaigners the “ashtray of Europe”. Smokers have to be seated in a separate area in bars and restaurants, but campaigners say this fails to contain the smoke and the rules are often flouted in any case.

No separate area is necessary in establishments smaller than 50 sq metres (540 sq ft) if the owner is happy to allow smoking on the premises.

About 13,000 people die of tobacco-related causes in Austria each year. According to Eurostat, 30% of people over 15 are smokers – the third-highest proportion in the EU.
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