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Last Updated: Monday, 10 January, 2005, 12:06 GMT
Italy's smokebusters go into action

By Tamsin Smith
BBC News, Rome

As the clock strikes midnight, the crowd gathered in one trendy Roman bar cheer and kiss each other. It is not New Year, but the start of Italy's new non-smoking era.

Silvia Ceccon, Italy's Miss Universe 2004
Silvia Ceccon: Smoking is unglamorous
The revellers are anti-smoking lobbyists, doctors and consumer groups - and in true Italian style there is also a beauty queen.

"I am using my beauty to send a strong anti-smoking message," says Silvia Ceccon, Italy's Miss Universe 2004, smiling generously at the assembled photographers.

"It's anti-social and of course very bad for your skin, hair and teeth." She flicks her immaculate long hair. "Oh yes... and also passive smoking hurts other people and that's not good."

"We have been waiting for this law for a very, very long time," adds Marco Ramadori, President of Codacons, Italy's leading consumer association.

"It's an example for a new generation. Smoking isn't just a bad habit, it's an illness. And here we have very strong pressure from tobacco companies who are fighting against us."

Smokebuster

With the power of the law now firmly behind them, the excited group unveil their secret weapon - the smokebuster.

Smokebuster backpack
Anti-smoking campaigners are armed with an extinguisher
A glamorous woman dressed in a white uniform and equipped with a water backpack bearing a smoke-busting logo twirls for the cameras. Then out into the street they march, a gaggle of journalists and interested onlookers following Italy's new anti-smoking Pied Piper through the bustling centre of Rome's night life.

"In here!" shouts the smokebuster, pausing outside the door. "I can see smokers!"

They burst through into a tiny bar, which turns out to be more of a strip joint.

The semi-naked bodies gyrating on the tables do not take too kindly to being sprayed with water by the smokebuster. She retreats under chants of "Legalise everything now! More cigarettes! More drugs!" from the bare table-dancing smokers.

They have better luck in the next bar, finding a smoker who does not object too much to having his cigarette and shirt doused with water. "I guess it's the law now so we have to accept it," he laughs.

Vincenzio, a 40-year-old marketing executive, is less impressed.

"I am going to continue to smoke unless they call the police. It's hypocritical .. the state sells cigarettes and tells us not to smoke. To pretend you can ban smoking with just a law is like being under the Taleban."

He lights another cigarette, but after a quick nod from the bar staff he shuffles outside to puff. "I can't afford to be fined," he says.

Changing habits

It's difficult for us to tell our clients not to smoke, but already I think they understand
Daniella, bar owner
"I think this smoking law is good for us. It's terrible having to work in such smoky places, it really affects us," says Daniella, 36, the bar owner. "Here in Italy though it is very difficult to police the law and put these rules into practice."

Her bar is one of the 95% in Italy that has not built the required separate smokers' room with extra ventilation.

It is far cheaper for many proprietors like Daniella just to make the whole bar non-smoking. Those who insist on keeping a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other can sit or stand outside.

"It's difficult for us to tell our clients not to smoke, but already I think they understand. The thing I worry about though is losing business if smokers go elsewhere," she says.

"This law is very unfair in the way it makes bar and restaurant owners play the sheriff," says Elizabetta Tonni from FIPE, the Italian restaurant federation. "They will suffer lost business and will be the main target of the fines."

But there is little sympathy from consumer groups for the restaurant owners, who can face fines up to 2,200 euros (1,536) if they fail to spot sneaky smokers.

"If I go into a restaurant and scream at the top of my voice then the bar staff will throw me out or they will call the cops," says Mr Ramadori from Codacons. "And screaming doesn't harm the health of anyone .. smoking kills people. So it's only right that bar owners have to enforce this law."

"But it's not going to be easy," he admits.




SEE ALSO:
Ban sees cigarette sales slump
26 Nov 04 |  Northern Ireland
Smoking curbs: The global picture
16 Nov 04 |  In Depth
Q&A: Passive smoking
25 Nov 03 |  Medical notes


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