Banning public smoking in Kosovo is still a challenge

03/12/2012

A proposal to ban smoking in closed public spaces may be difficult to enforce.

By Muhamet Brajshori for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 03/12/12

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The latest anti-smoking proposal forbids smoking in public spaces. [AFP]

Kosovo's parliament is suggesting a complete ban on smoking in closed public places, after a 2010 ban to prohibit smoking in 70 percent of public venues was disregarded by many.

Faik Hoti, information director at the Kosovo Health Ministry, reminded the Kosovo assembly that the new anti-smoking ban would be similar to the anti-smoking regulations in the region and the rest of Europe, and a benefit to society.

"[A] 100 percent smoking ban in public spaces is a measure that has a direct impact on reducing the prevalence of smoking, and protects non-smokers from tobacco exposure," Hoti said.

The ban would be effective in restaurants and other enclosed public places, but not in outdoor venues, such as cafes or parks.

Skender Syla, WHO Kosovo representative, said that the goal is to protect citizen health without compromising smokers' right to smoke.

"[Anti-smoking] research from other countries shows that only strict laws [that] clearly stipulate that 'all public indoor spaces 100 percent free of tobacco smoke' can succeed, which also allows for easier monitoring of the tobacco law," Syla told SETimes.

The 2010 smoking law bans tobacco advertising in print or electronic media, and mandates the removal of smoking advertisements from billboards.

"Advertising prohibition of tobacco products is important in the prevention from smoking, especially for the youth," Syla said.

Kosovo WHO research data show that almost one-fifth of all students use some kind of tobacco. WHO findings show that 47.2 percent of youth had their first cigarette before the age of 18.

"If we compare with the Union countries, where the percentage of smokers is lower than in Kosovo, the cost of the treatment for smoking-related health problems reaches tens of millions of euros per year, or more, than the total budget allocated for Kosovo health care," Syla said.

He warned that the 2010 ban was not fully implemented due to lack of political will, which may also affect the implementation of the new ban.

Shop and bar owners say they will be adversely affected by the new ban.

"I don't know if they consider the economic loss we'll incur with this ban; smokers will not enter bars and they are the majority of our consumers," Kushtrim Tahiraj, Obilic bar owner, told SETimes.

Syla said the tobacco industries generally lobby to influence governments, but it is up to individuals to take the responsibility for their own health.

"The tobacco industry continues to use its economic power, its machinery-lobbying, marketing and media manipulation to discredit scientific research and influence governments," Syla said.

Vlora Citaku, Kosovo's minister for EU integration, endorsed the 100 percent smoking ban proposal via Twitter.

"Her support impressed me," Kujtim Shabani, a law student, told SETimes. "Though I don't take political sides, I think for the best of our health it was good to see such a huge support of social networks for the law and public discussions on it."

Nehate Zeqiri, a Pristina lawyer and mother of three, told SETimes that the proposed ban will be effective if it is also respected by the members of parliament.

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"They themselves didn't respect this ban [initially], but I think it is positive that first steps are taken," Zeqiri said. "As mother I am concerned the extent to which Kosovo children are exposed to smoking, and more so, have an easy access to tobacco."

Similar steps have been taken in other regional countries to prohibit smoking in closed public areas.

In Macedonia, a 2010 law was imposed with a full ban and high fines. The law also forbids cigarette sale to buyers younger than 16.

In 2009, a full ban on smoking in indoor public spaces was implemented in Greece and Turkey, to the discontent of many businesses.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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