This past Tuesday evening I dropped by the “Protection Instead of Prohibition” initiative party at Cantina de Frida on the new Belgrade side of town. Although Germany seems to top the ‘highest number of smokers in Europe’ list, Serbia can’t be far behind. The Ottomans were notorious for their smoking habits and a large part of Serbia was under Ottoman rule for over 500 years so it all does make sense. Belgrade is also famous for its social and night life.However, in keeping pace with the rest of Europe, the Serbian government has been passing laws on banning smoking in recent years. The latest one, banning smoking in cafes, restaurants and other similar venues is currently being discussed, critisized and revised by many. The organized initiative “Protection Instead of Prohibition” is looking to find a compromise that will leave both smokers and non-smokers happy and able to enjoy each others company in public places.
Several prominent figures in Serbia have again stepped up for a democratic and fair decision in the matter and have shown their support for the initiative. These include the Serbian Society of Literary Authors and several actors, musicians, an other public figures. Among those showing their support at the party, was one of Serbia’s favorite actors, Mima Karadžić, who was bright and sociable, cigar in hand, once again confirming his reputation of being a man’s man.
I also ran into another Serbian actor and one of my professors from the Academy of the Arts, Ivan Bekjarev, a non-smoker but ready and able to support any fair initiative or cause.
I’d like to point out that, although I am a smoker, I agree with banning smoking in certain places and/or events. Those would include hospital zones, school zones, and government institutions and similar buildings. The list would, however, exclude cafes, clubs, bars, restaurants and other venues for social interaction. It wouldn’t be fair to smoke out the non-smokers among us, yet it would be just as unfair to deem smokers personae non gratae at social events. Wise are the words of “Protection Instead of Prohibition” – areas designated for smokers or smoking and non-smoking sections would be the right middle ground to go for.
The matter of a smoking ban isn’t so much about one’s rights as it is, plain and simple, about the practical effect it has on the economy.When smoking was banned in cafes, bars and restaurants in New York City in 2003, these businesses saw huge losses immediately. The results weren’t too different in the Netherlands when the same ban was passed last year and, having little choice, many have resorted to opening smokeeasy cafes throughout the country, finding they are better off paying the occassional fine when caught than losing customers. Germany has passed several smoking bans over the last few years, but either provides for the possibility of obtaining permission for smoking sections or, in some regions, simply does not implement the bans. France has also passed an entire set of laws, yet entirely excluded cafes, restaurants and similar venues from these bans. Considering that both anti-smoking laws and smoking itself are nothing new, we should look to the prior experiences of other countries and the current statistics realted to smoking in Serbia for guidance. With both a global and a local economic crisis still in bloom, bans and restrictions, when we are prepared to dish out a few bucks for the pleasure of spending a night on the town with friends, are the last thing we need.