Austria: Thousands sign up to scupper government's plans to stub out smoking ban


More than 100,000 Austrians have signed a petition against the government’s scrapping of a complete ban on smoking in the country’s bars and restaurants.

The high number of signatures means the issue will now have to be debated in parliament.

The ban, which was due to come into force in May this year, was imposed by the previous coalition government.

But the ban was scrapped by the new government at the behest of the leader of the far-right Freedom Party, Austria’s Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, himself a smoker, who said it impinged on “freedom of choice.”

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, a non-smoker, had supported the ban when his center-right People’s Party (ÖVP) was a member in the previous ruling coalition.

But he was forced to change stance, bowing to pressure from his junior coalition partner which insisted that the ban be dropped as a precondition for being part of the government.

Read more: Smoking leaves genetic ‘signatures’ far from lungs  

‘A big vote’

The Austrian Medical Association (ÖÄK) launched a petition on Thursday to thwart the government’s plan.

The petition proved so popular that registration of signatures on the interior ministry website had to be stopped for two hours on Friday due to a heavy load on the ministry’s online servers.

“This is a big vote and it has to make politicians rethink the issue,” the medical association’s president, Thomas Szekeres, said. “We will keep collecting signatures and expressions of support so as to keep increasing the pressure.”

Read more: With friends like Kurz, Merkel doesn’t need enemies 

Bucking the trend

Thirteen years after initiating attempts to ban smoking, Austria remains one of the last Western countries which still allows smoking in bars and restaurants.

In theory, large restaurants in Austria are required to provide separate smoking and non-smoking areas, but the rules are not rigidly implemented. Smaller restaurants need not have a separate area if the owner agrees to allow smoking on the premises.

Around 13,000 Austrians die each year from smoking-related causes.

ap/jm (AFP, dpa)

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