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Monday, 30 September, 2002, 10:15 GMT 11:15 UK
Greeks stub out public smoking
Man in Greek cafe
Bar owners say separating non-smokers is impossible
Europe's biggest-smoking nation - Greece - is bringing down the shutters on public puffing.

From Tuesday, strict new rules come into force, banning smoking in many public places.


Greeks can't go without smoking, they will not accept it

Office worker
The clampdown is being seen as part of the government's attempt to clean up the image of the capital, Athens, ahead of the Olympic Games in 2004.

The regulations could have a heavy impact on a nation where 45% of the adult population are smokers, and where smoking in offices and cafes is seen as a traditional right.

But correspondents say previous no-smoking regulations covering taxis and public transport have been ignored by many smokers.

Click here to see European smoking rates

"Greeks can't go without smoking, they will not accept it," said Athens travel agency worker George Zarifis.

Designated zones

No-smoking signs were being erected on Monday in public sites including waiting rooms, hospitals, railways stations and government buildings.

The rules will eventually be extended to cover all public places, except specially-designated areas.


Even if I have a no-smoking area, the smoker is still only one meter away from the non-smoker

Athens cafe owner
Fines are being introduced in December for cafes, bars and restaurants where owners have failed to allocate at least half the space to non-smokers.

But that has sparked anger from some cafe owners.

"The no-smoking signs are the easy part. The harder part is to cut the shop up in two," said one Athens cafe owner.

"It's only about 15 square meters (yards) and even if I have a no-smoking area, the smoker is still only one meter away from the non-smoker," he said.

Greek fisherman smoking while working
Public smoking is a way of life for many Greeks
The clampdown on cigarettes is also be extended next January to billboard and cinema advertising.

Greece's smoking population is among the highest in the word. It easily outranks other Western European nations. France, with a 38% total, is the second-highest.

Cancer 'time-bomb'

Greece is also a big tobacco producer - the world's seventh largest - but the country's agriculture minister has promised that farmers will not be hit by the anti-smoking drive.

Correspondents say changing Greek attitudes to smoking is a tough job.

Even attempts to force members of parliament to stop smoking during debates were ignored.

Greece's high smoking rates have sparked warnings from health experts that the country is facing a lung cancer epidemic.

Cases have risen by 50% over the last 30 years, and health professionals say a public health time bomb is waiting to go off.

An estimated 5-6,000 Greeks die from lung cancer every year, more than in any other European country.



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The BBC's Paul Henley
"If you smoke in a hospital you could face three months in prison"
See also:

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