Serbia - government abandons plans to introduce a blanket ban on smoking indoors..

December 25, 2009 - Danas (daily newspaper published in Serbia) says that this decision came after government officials held a meeting with cigarette manufacturers in Serbia.

Tobacco contributes significantly to the burden of disease in Serbia, and it has one of the highest age standardized lung cancer incidence rates in Europe.

The government has agreed to the “protection instead of ban” principle, promoted by cigarette makers and restaurants, the newspaper learned from a source close to the Cevtković cabinet. According to this report, the meeting was held between Ministers of Health and Economy Tomica Milosavljević and Mlađan Dinkić and representatives of cigarette manufacturers last week.

More details from the meeting have not been made public since the participants agreed to keep silent, "but the solution will be presented in several days". When asked to comment on the news, a surprised Milosavljević told the newspaper's reporters, “Why are you asking me about this now? The law is in procedure and I have nothing to add."

The tobacco industry representatives have not been more forthcoming either. The newspaper says they have been pressuring journalists during the past few months and offered to make statements condemning the preparation of the law, but chose to remain silent now.

One of the dilemmas, the article says, is whether the government chose this move as compensation for a violation of the so-called gentlemen's agreements made with tobacco companies when the domestic factories were privatized.

The new owners were promised "protection" until the factories they bought were “back on their feet”.

The tobacco companies have, however, lost that "protection" due to obligations which Serbia assumed as it joined CEFTA, the regional free trade agreement. There has been public speculation that some of the international companies considered leaving Serbia because of this.

Now, the newspaper says, "it is assumed that a blanked ban on smoking ban would perhaps represent one measure too many".

The draft law to regulate smoking in public places was finished in October 2009, but has not been adopted by the government yet. It entered the procedure about a month ago, but was then suddenly withdrawn.

Reference: "Govt. gives up on blanket smoking ban", Source: Danas, 12/24/2009.

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