VIENNA (Reuters) – Parliament on Tuesday passed a ban on smoking in Austria’s bars and restaurants, extinguishing a flagship policy of the recently collapsed right-wing government which had scrapped the measure after it was already on the statute books.
Conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s coalition with the far-right Freedom Party, launched in December 2017, imploded in May after FPO leader Heinz-Christian Strache was caught in a video sting apparently offering to fix state contracts at a meeting with a woman posing as a Russian oligarch’s niece.
The coalition had thrown out an impending ban on smoking in bars and restaurants passed under the previous centrist government. Th decision infuriated health campaigners and extended the bemusement of many tourists who expect nights out in picturesque Austria to be largely smoke-free.
“After many setbacks and 18 months of political ignorance it was finally possible to set a law in motion that will improve Austrians’ lives,” Social Democratic leader Pamela Rendi-Wagner said after the bill was passed with the support of Kurz’s conservatives.
With Austria now run by a caretaker government of civil servants until a parliamentary election widely expected to be held on Sept. 29, there is no ruling coalition and the three main parties are forming ad hoc alliances to pass legislation before parliament goes into recess.
The FPO, which rails against the nanny state and sees the freedom to smoke in bars and restaurants as appealing to its base, opposed the ban. Kurz, who does not smoke, made clear while he was in government that reversing the smoking ban was an FPO demand that he acceded to as part of their coalition talks.
Health campaigners also cheered parliament’s passage of the ban, which is due to come into force in November.
“A good day for the health of Austrians,” the Don’t Smoke initiative, which launched a petition for a ban that was signed by roughly one in 10 Austrians last year, said on its Facebook page.
Business, however, was less pleased.
“This … change in the law hits thousands of Austrian hospitality businesses hard and makes an already precarious situation worse, above all in rural regions and for businesses open at night,” Austria’s national chamber of commerce said in a statement.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Mark Heinrich)