Smoking in Serbia: “Protection Instead of Prohibition”

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.

Frida atmosfera

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.

Mima Karadžić

Mima Karadžić

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.

Ivan Bekjarev

Ivan Bekjarev

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.

Bend 1

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.


10 responses to “Smoking in Serbia: “Protection Instead of Prohibition”

  1. What is the point of banning smokers, giving state stimulus to tobacco industry and encouraging smoking at the same time in various ways?
    It is, simply, an optical illusion.

  2. I’m a smoker that has lived with a smoking ban for for more than three years now. I honestly don’t mind it and there are many positives.

    If you take Ireland and Scotland as examples rather than NY and Netherlands, on the whole, business armageddon did not happen. And that is two countries with a heavy drinking and smoking culture. Of course people will allege otherwise and I wonder if there is contradictory reports for NY and the Netherlands.

    I should warn though, these bans seem to be the thin end of the wedge. It certainly seemed to breed further intolerance of smoking. We certainly have people who act like smoking fascists and the looks you get when you even smoke outside can be scathing.

    On the fun side, with the smoking ban came a new phenomenon of “smirting”. A mixture of smoking and flirting 🙂 You tend to chat to your fellow smokers who have been dispatched outside, people you would otherwise not have – it’s quite social. I have seen pubs busier outside that inside, even the non smokers are outside because that’s where all the fun is.

    Back on track. Looking at the experiences of other bans may not support the decision you want. If I had a pound for every time I was told it will not work in Ireland or Scotland I’d be a rich man. This all seems familiar to me. I didn’t ever think it would happen in Scotland, it did. I can’t imagine it happening in Serbia, but will it?

  3. I think it will happen to some degree. Or I hope it will. True, I am a smoker but even I am sick of the “oversmoking” that goes on here sometimes. For example, I used to frequent a certain hair salon because there was a NO smoking policy there. Imagine mid-summer, the smell of hair dye, blowdriers doing their thing…. and a cloud of cigarette smoke. If I’m getting my hair done, I expect to walk out of an establishment with clean hair, not smelling like I just came from an all nighter at a pub 🙂

    I visit the US often and I don’t mind stepping outside for a smoke and you’re right, I’ve met people I otherwise wouldn’t have. I just don’t know how well that solution would work for most smokers here. That’s why I suggested looking at other cases in other countries, for both good and bad examples.

    If we compare Serbia to coutries that you mentioned, for example, Ireland already had a ban prior to the one from 2004, prohibiting smoking in public buildings, hospitals, etc while smoking was pretty commonplace in all of those in Serbia untill just a couple of years ago. It may be tough to make people go “cold turkey” everywhere at once. Scotland prsents a great example, on the other hand, as their ban allows smoking in areas that are less than 50% covered. But that also presents a problem for Serbia’s larger cities, that already have massive problems with lack of parking space and pedestrian routes, making it difficult for bars and cafes to make a decent outside space availlable for smokers. It’ll take some work, but I believe there are better solutions than a full ban.

  4. I have lived in Belgrade for 3 years, I am a non-smoker. There is a hard-core non-smoking law in place in my home-country since 2005 or 2006. The law there only allows smoking inside building in limited size, hyper-ventilated cubicles.

    Yes, this includes night-clubs, vinoteks, even cigar bars. The reasoning is really quite simple. In any establishments, there are workers and visitors. How can any smoker think that they have the right to hurt the health of other people to satisfy their craving for some smoke in their lungs? Ok, one may argue that let’s have places for smokers and non-smokers. Cool. What about the workers? It is not in line with human values that people who work in the hospitality industry should inhale the smoke of the poor addicts. Again, one can say that let’s have the smoking staff work in smoking bars and vice-versa, but this again means discrimination of the staff, and discrimination against the non-smokers.

    I recently attended a wedding in Belgrade, where about half of the guests were smoking, including at least one pregnant woman. Given that my girlfriend is pregnant, you can imagine the horror.

    To wrap it up – I understand that the situation in Serbia regarding smoking is a sensitive one. I usually do not complain about smoking in bars/cafes/restaurants. I understand. But then you have to protect the life of someone, who is yet to enter this world, and why the hell should I choose where to go, just so people can lite up?

    And the last point from me – at least in my home-country, the hospitality industry is alive and kicking – people like going to clubs, restaurants, cafes and not smoking like ashtrays afterwards the screaming now is overdone.

  5. Here in Australia the smoking laws are pretty tough. There is no more smoking indoors in cafes, clubs, pubs etc, but smoking is allowed in these venues in outdoor areas, or in designated, enclosed, ventilated smoking areas.

    These days, smoking is also banned in some public outdoor areas, such as childrens’ playgrounds, bus stops, train platforms etc, and some local jurisdictions also ban smoking on the beach, even though it’s completely outdoors (this is a litter issue as well as a children’s/public health one; cigarette butts are hard to clean up and also bad for marine life). The most recent innovation is banning smoking inside cars where children are present – the police can now issue fines for this offence just like speeding or not wearing a seatbelt. Personally, I think this is a great idea.

    When the cafe/restaurant/pub laws were announced the hospitality industry was furious as they claimed it would ruin their business, but in the end it wasn’t so bad. A lot of places built rooftop beer gardens, or made other renovations so that smokers would have somewhere to smoke. It turns out a lot of these renovations were paid for by tobacco companies, afraid of losing business.

    I agree with Marko, it’s not just a general public health issue, it’s also a workers’ rights issue. After all, customers can choose which venues they want to go to, but hospitality workers can’t. And the health damage caused by an 8 or 10 hour shift in a crowded, smoke-filled pub is probably much worse than smoking a few cigarettes yourself, or visiting that pub for a couple of hours. So I think that this consideration wins out over any other, such as the inconvenience smokers face stepping outside to smoke :-p Or maybe we should force waiters and bartenders to wear protective masks, like in other industries exposed to fumes?

    I think what you’re forgetting here is that one of the main aims of smoking restrictions is to encourage people to quit smoking, and to prevent young people from taking up smoking in the first place – at least that’s been the case here. It’s part of a wider approach, so the bans are combined with public health warnings and graphic campaigns about the negative health effects, higher taxes on cigarettes, plus more free health and social services for people who want to quit. In the end, it becomes more convenient and desirable and socially acceptable to quit smoking. And I think it’s worked here, smoking rates have definitely gone down, and fewer young people are starting smoking. So over time, the ‘problem’ that smokers face finding a place to light up is diminished – because there are fewer smokers 🙂

    That said, the smoking bans in Australia have come in gradually. Smoking was banned in public institutions like schools, hospitals, govt buildings etc more than twenty years ago, while the bans for restaurants etc are more recent (2006?), and even then there was a transition period with smoking and non-smoking areas indoors, before a complete ban was enforced. So maybe there should be some transition period in Serbia too.

    I did an internship in Belgrade recently and was shocked to find people still smoking in the office – and this in a human rights NGO! I think one of the main problems getting anti-smoking legislation off the ground in Serbia is that the people who should be promoting and encouraging these reforms as a fundamental public health or workers’ rights issue are often smokers themselves, and therefore have an interest in maintaining the current status quo. And non-smokers who want to do something feel bad telling their smoker friends what to do. Which is just how the big tobacco multinationals like it, really.

  6. And that was a party political broadcast by the Anti Smoking and tolerance party :p

  7. LOL. You said it, not me 🙂
    I do agree on the gradual transition thing though! Many thanks to both of you for your comments!

  8. I smoke (damn it) but I fully support choice. That means that people who don’t smoke should have places they can go, and so should smokers. If there was real demand for no-smoking zones in Belgrade cafes, I am quite sure some enterprising bar-owners would have done it years ago. We need common sense – no smoking in public places where we all have to go, but no interference when we can exercise a choice either way.

    We don’t allow smoking in our office (our choice) But the workplace issue is really a bit daft – no smoker is forced to work in a smoke free bar, and no non smoker is forced to work in a smoky one either. Choice is what matters.

    The best thing would be for Belgrade smokers to show a little consideration for other people, but I don’t expect to see that in my lifetime, so probably, we will see a ban of some kind. Will it be enforced more effectively than, say, the regulation against using mobile phones in cars?

    Anyway, I am sure the government has more important things to do right now….

  9. If you want to see what happens when we let the smoking police out of their box, just look at this story from the UK. There are many similar madnesses. Common sense? I think not.

  10. There is an interesting quote yesterday from the police chief in Glasgow. He is urging people to return to drinking in pubs and not at home. He alleges that as a consequence of the smoking ban and the availability of cheap alcohol in supermarkets there has been an increase of drinking in the home. In turn this has lead to an increase in the amount of reported domestic abuse and violence.

    This leads me to question whether there are significant negative aspects of total smoking bans that aren’t being widely reported. Does it result in increased exposer of children to smoke in the home?