Austrian government agrees on smoking bans by 2009

No SmokingVienna  - After months of intra-coalition wrangling, Austria's government on Wednesday agreed on introducing smoking bans in cafes and restaurants by January 1, 2009.

Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer said the compromise found between Social Democrats and the conservative People's Party was a "step in the right direction."

The ban is, however, far from total, as restaurants will still be able to have smoking sections, albeit in separate rooms. At least 50 per cent of a restaurant's space must be non-smoking the government compromise said.

Restaurants, bars or cafes smaller than 50 square metres will have to decide whether to go all non-smoking or remain cigarette-friendly.

Businesses of a size between 50 and 80 square metres must either introduce a physical separation of smokers and non-smokers or decide for one option.

Austria's new smoking legislation, which is expected to be rubber- stamped by parliament also introduced stronger workplace health regulations for employees working in the hospitality business.

In case of violations of the smoking ban, the law foresees fines for both restaurant owners and guests, ranging between 100 and 1,000 euros for patrons and between 2,000 and 10,000 euros for owners.

Previous attempts at introducing a complete ban on smoking had failed owing to fierce resistance by the country's restaurant and tobacco lobbies, who both feared massive losses for their business.

The rules are less strict than in many other European countries, but politicians from both government parties said the Austrian solution showed "common sense."

Austria's restaurant owners welcomed the deals, while the country's doctors showed disappointment over the lax rules. (dpa)