Croatia has backed down a legislation prohibiting lighting up in public places after being under pressure of a huge wave of criticism from owners of restaurants and bars who stated that the government was destroying their businesses by banning smoking.
Last Thursday, the Croatian government passed an amendment to the public smoking policy permitting smoking in restaurants and bars in physically separated smoking sections that would cover not more than 20 percent of any venue. The rest territory should be non-smoking.
For venues smaller than 50sq m it is now permitted to select between being totally non-smoking or smoking only, after complying with several criteria.
Since the day when smoking in all enclosed public places was approved in June, owners of eating and drinking establishments have carried out protest marches and exerted constant pressure and lawmakers to exclude these businesses.
Stipe Upic, chairman of the Croatian Association of Restaurant and Bar Owners, praised the amendment which has been the result of negotiations between the Association and Ministry of Public Health.
According to Upic, the economic downturn already hit the businesses dramatically and the winter could have ruined many of them, since when it was hot the managers used patios to accommodate smokers.
Public Health officials have stated that the legislation is intended at protecting non-smokers from secondhand smoke, as around 70 percents of the population are not smokers.
The chairman of the National anti-smoking organization, Vania Lapic said she had been sad that the government decided to amend the law; however, she understands that the amendment has been the result of difficult economic situation and necessity to save work places in the primary sector of Croatian economy.
In Croatia, tobacco is blamed for killing some 10,000 people each year while an additional 3,000 die from passive smoking, according to the health ministry.
Croatia spends $600 million on treating smoking related diseases every year.
However, the population and even business owners have split into two camps, with one praising the amendment and the other criticizing it.
“I am very happy, since despite health risks, the major thing is the profis, since it is well-known that smokers are better customers,” admitted Goran Ancic, manager of a small café Brasilia in the centre of Zagreb.
He added that Brasilia owner decided to make his venue for smokers, as after the introduction of the ban their profits decreased by one third, and that loss could have been even more if they had not launched a patio in front of the entrance.
Maria Dragojevic, a patron of another Zagreb café said that smoking is not good for everyone, but people should have been given a right to make their own decision.
However, there are business owners who have not been against the ban when it was introduced.
The ban has been obligatory in many European countries, and there have been no reasons why the ban should have been amended, said Nisit Alispasic, who owns a restaurant in Split.
The Balkan countries are home to the most die-hard smokers in Europe, with 30-40 percent of adult population being regular smokers.