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Greek law restricts public smoking

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ATHENS, Greece (AP), Europe's most nicotine-addicted nation adopted a new public smoking ban Wednesday in a bid to stub out the Greek habit of lighting up practically everywhere. Exceptions have been made for mental patients and gamblers.

Unrestricted indoor smoking in restaurants, bars, coffee shops and workplaces is now against the law, in the third ban Greece has tried to impose over the past decade.

"We want to change the mentality of many years and adapt our daily habits ... to the practices in effect in all civilized countries," Health Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos said. "Greek society is ready for this."

European Union figures show that 37.6 percent of Greeks aged over 15 smoke on a daily basis ‚ the highest level in the 27-nation EU. According to the Health Ministry, the habit kills 20,000 Greek smokers every year, and another 700 die as a result of passive smoking.

But the government has stopped shy of imposing a blanket ban, and critics say this will render the new law as ineffective as the two previous ones ‚ which were generally ignored by smokers and authorities alike.

Small establishments will be able to choose whether they will be exclusively smoking or nonsmoking, and bigger ones can set aside smoking areas.

And all hospitals and health services will be smoke free ‚ apart from mental institutions, where patients will be able to smoke under prescription "for purely curative purposes," according to the new law.

Smokers will also be free to indulge in casino gaming areas.

Offenders will face fines ranging from euro50 for smokers to a maximum euro20,000 for the owners of bars, restaurants and coffee shops caught for multiple infractions.

A poll earlier this year found that 95 percent of nonsmokers and 62 percent of smokers backed a public smoking ban.

"It's a positive measure," said Athens kiosk worker Pavlos Giannopoulos. "It's all a matter of habit, as long as (the law) is enforced."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.

 
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