Portuguese government reduces smoking in public places

Portuguese bar and restaurant owners criticized a government proposal to restrict indoor smoking, saying Friday that such a move would hurt thousands of establishments already suffering amid a national economic slump. The government late Thursday announced plans to reduce smoking, including a ban in workplaces, but said it would first allow for a period of public discussion before finalizing proposals to go into force next year.

"If the government put the document up for public discussion, it's because it's open to other opinions," Health Minister Antonio Correia de Campos said. Some 31 percent of men and 18 percent of women smoke in Portugal , and the habit is responsible for 26 percent of the country's cancer deaths, Correia de Campos said.

The government wants to ban smoking in all offices, but proposed exceptions for large leisure and entertainment venues with separate, ventilated smoking sections. The country's Association of Restaurants and Similar Establishments said, however, that the planned measure would effectively outlaw smoking in more than 80,000 establishments in Portugal , where an economic slump has already hurt business.

Nonsmoking areas are rare in Portugal 's bars and restaurants, though smoking is banned in government offices and on public transport. If the new measures are approved, Portugal would join Britain , Ireland , Finland , Italy , New Zealand , Norway , South Africa , Spain , Sweden and several U.S. states and cities that have restricted smoking in public places in recent years.

Smokers who break the new law would face fines up to Ђ 1,000 (US$1,220), while bar and restaurant owners would face up to 2,500 (US$3,050) in fines, the government said.

The Portuguese government also proposed placing on cigarette packs graphic color photos of corpses with organs damaged by smoking, and changing the age at which people can legally buy tobacco to 18, from the current 16. The National Doctors' Association welcomed the attempt to reduce smoking, but criticized the proposed graphic photographs on cigarette packs as being "ineffective and in bad taste", reports the AP.

N.U.