Sweden stubs out for good

Sweden introduced a ban on smoking in all bars and restaurants at the stroke of midnight on Tuesday, joining a growing band of European countries seeking to reduce the number of people who light up and limit the risks of second-hand smoke.

The ban has been largely welcomed in the Scandinavian country, where a recent poll showed that 85 percent favour an end to smoking in restaurants and 77 percent support a ban in bars and clubs.

Even two-thirds of smokers questioned said they agreed with the ban, according to the Temo poll conducted in early May.

The Swedish law follows similar legislation already introduced in several other European countries, including neighbouring Norway and Ireland.

As of June 1st Swedish patrons will have to go outside for a chilly puff.

Establishments will only be allowed to permit smoking indoors if they build a separate, closed-off section with specially-designed ventilation, though no food or drinks can be consumed in the special area.

But most small bars and restaurants will not be able to afford such renovations.

The ban comes following intense lobbying from the National Board of Public Health, which has long argued that hotel, bar and restaurant staff are three times more likely to die of lung cancer than employees in other sectors due to their extensive exposure to smoke.

Despite the broad acceptance of the new law, some smokers said they were hesitant about its introduction.

“I don’t know what smokers are going to do,” said Yvonne as she stubbed out her umpteenth cigarette in an ashtray at the Golden Hits restaurant and nightclub in central Stockholm.

“They’ll go smoke outside with their drink but some will probably leave without paying,” she joked.

Bar and restaurant owners have been gearing up ahead of the June 1st ban. Svat Ayranci, the owner of the small “Stil” nightclub, said he expected that he would have to remind his clients who light up to take their cigarettes outside.

“It’ll be hard at first,” he admitted.

But it should pay off. The Temo poll showed that 95 percent of 2,000 people surveyed said they expected to go out to eat as often or more often once the ban comes into effect.

Only three percent said they would go out less often.

Other studies have shown that the ban will have little impact on restaurants’ and bars’ sales, since those who have higher incomes go out more often and smoke the least.

Meanwhile, Sweden’s centuries-old tradition of “snus”, a form of moist snuff placed under the lip and used by more than a million Swedes, could see an upswing.

Snus comes individually packaged in portion sizes, wrapped in a thin layer of paper which is placed under the lip and sucked on for several hours. A pack of 20 packets is sold in a round, plastic pillbox.

The EU banned the sale of snus in 1992, citing research that said it causes cancer, but granted an exception to Sweden when it joined the bloc in 1995.

Some Swedish bars and restaurants plan to place “snus-trays” – instead of ashtrays – in their establishments.

The new anti-smoking legislation is the latest step in an ambitious Swedish plan adopted in 2002 to get people to kick the nicotine habit.

Already one of the countries with the lowest share of smokers, having dropped from 31.4 percent in 1980 to 17.5 percent in 2003, the aim is to cut their number by half by 2014.

In 1998, Sweden was the first country in the world to have fewer than 20 percent smokers, as recommended by the World Health Organisation.

The plan is also aimed at reducing the number of youths under the age of 18 who smoke as well as the share of heavy smokers, and to ensure that no one is exposed to second-hand smoke against their will.