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Greece imposes smoking ban in public spaces

By Christine Theodorou, CNN
Nikos Louvros, who heads a pro-smoking group, smokes in the entrance to his Athens bar.
Nikos Louvros, who heads a pro-smoking group, smokes in the entrance to his Athens bar.
  • Ban is part of a push to improve health
  • The nation has tried to impose the ban before, but failed
  • Penalties for defying the ban include a fine and having names entered into a database
  • Greece

(CNN) -- Greece has imposed a nationwide ban on smoking in enclosed public and private workplaces under a new slogan "cut smoking, gain life."

Small establishments such as restaurants and cafes will have to observe the restrictions. Larger ones such as casinos and nightclubs have until June 2011 to fully impose the ban.

The nation has tried to impose the ban before, but failed.

Consequences for violating the ban were not clearly outlined and enforced in the past, leading many smokers to shun the law.

However, the health minister says things are different this time.

Circumstances have "matured" and we have the broad support of the Greek populace, Minister Mariliza Xenogiannakopoulou said.

Anyone defying the ban now will initially receive a warning and get their named entered into a database.

A second infraction will result in a fine of 50 to 500 euros ($65-$650).

Business owners will be fined 500 to 10,000 euros ($650-$12,750) for each violation with the fine doubling when there's a recurrence.

In her statement, the health minister said that Greece is following the same efforts made by most European and Mediterranean countries, adding that this "is a political decision but in order for it to succeed, it needs to be supported by all people."

She urged the nation to remember that this is "first and foremost a very big step for health of our public."

Petros Tzoumakas, owner of "Espresso Bar Caldo" in Kiato, said his business will be adversely affected by the ban.

"I'm going to lose many patrons" he said, adding that smoking in Greece is synonymous with a good time.

Tzoumakas said authorities should not penalize business owners but citizens who violate the ban.

"There's a sign in my establishment that clearly states smoking is prohibited," he said. "People need to be educated."

A 2009 survey on tobacco consumption stated that at 42 percent, Greece has the highest proportion of smokers of any country in the European Union.

Six out 10 working respondents said they are exposed to smoke at their workplace daily whereas nine out of 10 respondents in the U.K. said they are never, or hardly ever, exposed to tobacco smoke at work.

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou says that Greeks are making efforts to change their perception, norms and behaviors to make progress financially. He said the changes will contribute to an improved quality of life.

The health minister echoed his sentiments.

"It's a step from which we will see the beneficial effects in the following years," Xenogiannakopoulou said. "As the slogan of the central campaign states 'We cut smoking, gain life.'"