New law is helping fight against smoking in Italy

Health officials claimed success Tuesday for Italy's stringent anti-smoking law, saying 500,000 fewer Italians were smoking than when the measure came into force a year ago.The Health Ministry acknowledged that the number of Italian smokers has been falling over the past 15 years. But advocates of the law said the new ban on smoking in offices, restaurants and other public places had had a significant effect on the decline in the past year.

Presenting figures on the response to the law, the ministry said the proportion of Italians who smoke had dropped from 26.2 percent before it was applied to the current level of 25.6 percent. Cigarette sales had dropped by 5.7 percent during the same period, it said.

"The response has been positive," said Francesco Schitulli, head of the Italian League for the Fight against Cancer. "I don't want to overstate matters, but this law is certainly helping us to win the war against cancer." The law, one of the most severe in Europe, bans smoking in indoor spaces unless they have a separate smoking area with continuous floor-to-ceiling walls and a ventilation system. It extends to bars, restaurants, offices and other public spaces.

Smokers ignoring the ban face fines of up to Ђ275 (US$332), although the amount can double if a pregnant woman or child under age 12 is nearby. Owners of bars or restaurants that close an eye to smoking risk penalties as high as Ђ2,200 (US$2,657). Officials said it had been easier to apply the law in bars and restaurants than in offices, including local health authorities, where some employees have continued to light up.

The data presented Tuesday said police had carried out more than 6,000 inspections in enforcement efforts and found 327 infractions, with the majority of fines going to owners of premises where smoking had continued, reports the AP. N.U.

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