Monday 21 January 2019

Austrian smoking ban dropped as MPs 'vote for death'

Austria’s Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. Photo: Reuters
Austria’s Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. Photo: Reuters

Justin Huggler

The Austrian parliament voted yesterday to drop plans to introduce a smoking ban in bars and restaurants.

The move was led by the far-Right Freedom Party of Austria (FPO), which made the vote a condition for joining the coalition government of Sebastian Kurz last year.

MPs voted to overturn the planned ban despite public protests and a petition that attracted more than 500,000 signatures. At a tumultuous session of parliament, opposition MPs accused the government of "betraying" Austrian children and "voting for death".

The decision means Austria will remain one of the fast-dwindling number of countries where it is still possible to smoke in enclosed public spaces.

Under current laws, bars and restaurants can set aside a ventilated section for smokers. Pubs smaller than 46 sq m can allow smoking on the premises.

A blanket ban backed by the previous government was supposed to come into force in May. However, dropping the ban was part of the price Mr Kurz had to pay to secure the support of the FPO for his coalition government.

Heinz-Christian Strache, the FPO leader, made opposition to the ban a key policy for the party, arguing it was an issue of individual liberty. "The fact that smoking is unhealthy and an addiction, we know," Beate Hartinger-Klein, the FPO health minister, told MPs. "But to exclude minorities, to exclude addicts, is wrong."

"Where will this banning culture for adult citizens end?" Peter Wurm, an FPO MP asked. "In the end, roast pork will be placed on the blacklist because it contains too much fat."

Opposition MPs denounced the decision. Pamela Rendi-Wagner, a former health minister from the centre-Left Social Democrats (SPO), accused the government of "betraying the health of our children".

"No country has taken a backwards step on protecting non-smokers until today," she said.

Matthias Strolz, the leader of the liberal Neos party, told government MPs: "You are acting against your better knowledge... Today, you deliberately voted for death."

Irish Independent

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