Plans to ban smoking in all closed public areas, including bars and offices, in Portugal could be in place by October after parliament agreed to consider a petition aimed at protecting passive smokers. The move follows a petition presented by the Humanitarian Union of Patients with Cancer (UHDC) in April. The Commission for Work and Social Affairs analysed the UHDC recommendations and concluded that “existing legislation in Portugal is insufficient from the point of view of protecting non-smokers – it fails to recognise their rights, with grave consequences for their health.”
It is believed that the Ministry of Health also believes that now is the time to reinforce existing legislation – it has drawn up plans to extend the smoking ban to all closed public areas, including the workplace. Rose Dias, UHDC spokesperson, said any ban would not come into force immediately, but she was certain it would be approved: “There is no possibility of the law not going forward. Even if some deputies show no common sense about this question, we believe it will still go forward,” she said.
Measure will prick consciences
Dias also stresses that she has no doubts that the law will reap advantages for everyone. “The harmful effects of tobacco are, of course, well known. But what is now known is that smoking not only affects smokers, but also those people surrounding the smoker,” she says. It is estimated that between 20 and 26 per cent of the Portuguese population smoke, although in 2002 the number of smokers actually fell for the first time. Now, Dias says, non-smokers will have their rights respected and safeguarded with this more restrictive legislation, similar to that in other countries, where the ban on smoking now extends to many other places.
“This is an important path, which has to be followed,” she said. “There will be practical difficulties regarding compliance, particularly at the beginning. But this measure, as well as others, such as the increase in the price of tobacco, will prick people’s consciences and reduce the number of smokers.” She hopes the law will be passed in October. “And from that moment onwards, we will all be the beneficiaries,” she makes clear.
The ban in Portugal follows an increasing trend of smoking prohibition in other countries. In Ireland smoking was banned in pubs and restaurants in April. In Spain it is forbidden to smoke in health centres, schools, theatres, cinemas, coaches and on domestic flights. Similar partial bans and restrictions are observed in Germany, Australia and Albania.
The strictest anti-smoking legislation is followed in the United States where it is forbidden to smoke in all enclosed public areas – in some states even open air areas are not exempt – it is forbidden to smoke within seven metres of any Californian public building or beach.