Greece’s New Smoking Ban: Will Citizens Listen This Time?

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A man lights a cigarette in a cafe in Athens

REUTERS/John Kolesidis

In a case of political déjà vu, the country is once again taking legal action to stop its tobacco troubles.

Last July, Greece’s leaders had enough. The government clamped down on smoking, implementing a partial ban that levied 500-euro fines on convicted offenders. Bars and restaurants failing to comply risked having their licenses revoked.

The only problem was, few were willing to listen. Smokers regularly found loopholes, resorting as far as moving cabs to grab an afternoon light.

“There were problems in the implementation of the law, there were grey areas and contradictions,” Health Minister Marilisa Xenogiannakopoulou told Reuters.

Starting on Wednesday, those grey areas are turning to red zones. The AP reports that all indoor common spaces are included in the new law, which will slap fines of 50 to 500 euros ($65-$650) against individual offenders. Businesses ignoring cigarette butts face stiffer fees in the range of 500 to 10,000 euros ($650-$12,750).

The decision is penetrating public spaces for both fiscal and health reasons. Recent polls show that Greece is the most nicotine-needy nation in all of Europe, with 40 percent of the population turning to a daily puff.

In turn, the high frequency of participants has affected the country’s medical costs. Reuters found that around 20,000 Greeks die from smoking-related illnesses annually, creating a $2.14 billion euro ($2.62 billion) hole in the health ministry’s budget.