Poland - attempt to introduce smoking ban in public places fails..

April 5, 2010 - An attempt to impose a complete ban on smoking in public places in Poland failed on Friday 26 March, when its Senate approved a bill that will allow smoking in bars and restaurants that have more than one room, as long as a no smoking room is provided, and in hotels and student accommodation.

Back on February 15, 2010 we were disappointed when the full parliament sent smoking ban bill back to committee to weaken the bill.

Lukasz Balwicki, of the Department of Public Health and Social Medicine at the Medical University of Gdask, expressed regret at the failure to introduce a full smoking ban. He said that the tobacco lobby had worked hard against a comprehensive ban on smoking in public. "The tobacco industry tried to convince [the government] that new stronger regulations would lower revenue coming from tobacco taxes. In times of a financial downturn this is a strong argument," Dr Balwicki said

The situation has been made worse by the fact that the country’s health minister, Ewa Kopacz, a paediatrician, is a smoker and a strong opponent of a complete ban.

Dr Balwicki expressed relief, however, that the Senate’s bill was not as retrogressive (move backward) as one passed earlier in March by the Sejm, Poland’s lower chamber.

The two chambers must now haggle over specifics to try to hammer out a single version of the bill, which would become law if signed by the Polish president.

Dr Balwicki, who is a member of the Polish Society for Health Programmes, said he thought that the Sejm would agree to the Senate version, as both houses are controlled by the same party, the centre right Civic Platform. The Senate version was approved only after consultation with Sejm colleagues, he added.

Dorota Sienkiewicz, policy officer at the European Public Health Alliance in Brussels, said that Poland had ratified the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2006 and for the past three years had been debating a more comprehensive public smoking ban.

The process seemed to be progressing smoothly, with strong political support in both chambers for a comprehensive smoking ban. "Nearly all politicians were in favour," she said. "But in the two weeks before the [Sejm] vote, everything changed."

On 4 March the Sejm approved a bill that would allow smoking in separate rooms in almost all public places, including in hospitals, schools, kindergartens, and workplaces. The bill would also allow separate smoking rooms in pubs and restaurants over 100 square metres. In smaller venues the owner would be given the right to choose to be either a 100% smoking or non-smoking establishment.

The Sejm’s bill was a step backward from current Polish law approved in 1995, which bans smoking in hospitals, schools, and workplaces, Ms Sienkiewicz said, adding that the 1995 law was "very progressive" when it was approved.

She agreed with Dr Balwicki that the tobacco lobby has been active in working against a comprehensive public smoking ban.

The Senate bill completely bans smoking in hospitals, schools, and workplaces, as well as in one room pubs and restaurants. "The Senate showed better understanding of the problem and repaired most of the mistakes made by the lower chamber," Dr Balwicki said, but he added that smoke free advocates would have preferred a complete ban..

Reference: Poland: Attempt to introduce smoking ban in public places fails, ASH, Source: BMJ, 30 March 2010, 4/1/2010.

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