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News 31 May 13

Kosovo's Many Smokers Turn Blind Eye to Ban

While Kosovo marked international no-smoking day with several events, the country's many tobacco addicts are finding it hard to come to terms with tough new smoking regulations.

Edona Peci
Pristina

Fatmir Gashi, a 49-year-old Albanian sips his coffee and smokes a cigarette defiantly in a cafeteria in Pristina.

Friday was no-smoking day throughout the world - and in theory he should not have been smoking in a cafe in Kosovo any case.

On April 4, Kosovo adopted a strict law banning smoking in all public areas, cafe premises included. Under the law, five different inspectorates are responsible for enforcing the ban, which foresees fines up to 20,000 euro for violators.

But Gashi ignores those provisions - and is not in the company of those who decided to abstain from tobacco for 24 hours in honour of international anti-smoking day.

“I’m not one of those who can just give up smoking,” he tells Balkan Insight. “I can’t remember when I started, it must have been more than 30 years ago now.”

Kosovo authorities organized several round-table discussions marking the international campaign. They also handed out brochures on the risks of tobacco use.

Although the law banning smoking in public areas went into force weeks ago, meanwhile, clearly not all restaurants and cafes are enforcing it.

“I know I’m not obeying it - but it is difficult to go outside this cafe where I have been allowed to smoke for years. I wouldn’t feel comfortable,” Gashi explains.

The owner of the cafe has put up some anti-smoking signs but confesses that he “can’t force all the guests not to smoke.

“It’s a huge problem with people who have been customers for years," he adds. "I make it clear that smoking inside is prohibited but sometimes they continue.

“The law can't be implemented drastically, it has to go step by step until people get used to it,” he concludes.

Adem Berisha, a small shop owner, says the protective plate he had to install above tobacco products has surprised a lot of consumers.

“People are gradually getting used to it. Cosumers know what they want even if they can’t see their cigarette brand,” he explains.

Over recent weeks the authorities in Kosovo have launched an intensive anti-tobacco campaign aimed at raising awareness of the new anti-smoking measures.

“We don’t want to punish anyone before sending out our messages. There are violations, but generally the law is being implemeted,” Faik Hoti, spokesperson of the ministry of health, told Balkan Insight.

“But as by Monday, inspectors will have the maximum freedom to impose the penalties foreseen by the law,” he adds.

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