Austria stubs out looming smoking ban in name of ‘freedom’

Plan to ban smoking completely in bars and eateries from 2018 scrapped by far-right Freedom party in coalition talks

Austria’s far-right Freedom party has announced that a planned ban on smoking in all bars and restaurants that was due to come into force in 2018 will be scrapped.

Party chief Heinz-Christian Strache said the reversal was agreed in ongoing talks to form a coalition with the conservative People’s party (OVP) following elections in October.

“I am proud of this excellent solution in the interests of non-smokers, smokers and restaurant owners,” Strache, who had made the move a key campaign pledge, said on social media.

“The freedom to choose lives on. The existence of restaurants (particularly small ones) has been secured. Thousands of threatened jobs have been saved,” said Strache, himself a smoker.

Unlike in most of Europe, in Austria people can smoke in eateries under certain conditions – which are widely flouted – including that it is confined to separate rooms.

The outgoing government, a coalition of the OVP and the Social Democrats, passed a law in 2015 banning smoking completely in bars and eateries, which was due to take effect next May.

The new government, which Strache and non-smoker OVP leader Sebastian Kurz want installed before Christmas, will make some concessions, media reports said.

Under-18s will not be allowed in smoking rooms of bars and restaurants, smoking will be outlawed in cars if under-18s are inside, and the minimum age for smoking will rise from 16 to 18.

“Overturning the total ban on smoking in the restaurant industry is an enormous step backwards on health policy,” said health minister Pamela Rendi-Wagner of the Social Democrats, who plan to go into opposition once a coalition deal is reached.

Agence France-Presse and Reuters contributed to this report

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