As Croatia starts to match trends in the EU, its citizens can expect stricter enforcement of the laws against smoking in public places.
By Kristina Cuk for Southeast European Times from Zagreb – 17/08/06
Smoking is still allowed in most cafes in Zagreb. [Davor Konjikusic]
Some 27.4 per cent of Croatian citizens are smokers, a fact which has serious health implications. The country is third place in Europe in terms of deaths from lung cancer, according to data from the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
The two leading causes of death in Croatia are closely related to smoking, says Croatian Institute for Public Health chairperson Vlasta Hrabak-Zerbajic. "Cardiovascular diseases, with a 53.6 per cent share in Croatia's mortality total in 2001, ranked first. Next in rank was neoplasms, with 23.8 per cent, while diseases of the respiratory system, with 4.1 per cent, were fifth," Hrabak-Zerbajic wrote in a report for the WHO.
Surveys by the institute show the majority of Croatians light their first cigarette at 13 years old, and almost 43 per cent of high school students are addicted. Some 35 per cent of the students that attend medical schools, dentistry schools or pharmacy colleges admit to smoking.
The current law in Croatia limits smoking in workplaces. Violators can be fined 14 euros. In addition, the supervisor of the work area must also pay 69 euros. Any employer who does not properly mark the work area with a sign prohibiting smoking may be punished with a fine of 138-413 euros.
However, this law has not been strictly enforced in the past. With one million smokers in the country, many Croatians do not take the laws seriously. One of the reasons for this lies in their mentality: many Croatians simply do not understand or care that smoking is unhealthy. Moreover, the law is recent and it takes time for people to adjust.
Earlier this summer, the health ministry announced that it would pass a new bill against smoking in any and all public places, including bars and cafés. Just after the announcement, however, the government backtracked and said such a law was unnecessary. The ministry is now focusing instead on enforcing the penalties for existing laws restricting smoking in public, and on raising the public's awareness of the harmful side effects smoking brings.
In most other European countries, anti-smoking laws already apply to all public places: coffee shops, restaurants, theatres, disco clubs, offices and hospitals. These laws are also well-enforced by fines. In the United States, setting fines for smoking offences did what 30 years of anti-smoking campaigns could not.
Understandably, smokers in Croatia are passionately opposed to the new law, while non-smokers are adamant about its implementation. The situation is not simple because the country brings in a large profit from tobacco industry. Nevertheless, if Croatia wants to keep up with other, more developed countries -- especially members of the EU -- the eventual prohibition of smoking in all public places is unquestionable.