With a decision pending in the Constitutional Court (VfGH), the transition “government of experts” has revived consideration of Austria’s smoking ban, a move previously blocked by the leadership of the far right Freedom Party (FPÖ). Should the Court declare the “Tobacco and Nonsmoker Protection Act” unconstitutional, the People’s Party (ÖVP) will submit legislation for a smoking ban in Parliament, club chairman August Wögniger told the Kronen Zeitung. The Act, passed last year, reinstituted the practice of separate smoking and non-smoking areas in bars and restaurants, reversing a full ban that had been passed in the previous Parliament.
The ban has a long, complicated history in Austrian politics. Originally scheduled to come into force in all bars and restaurants in mid 2018, the Turquoise-Blue coalition withdrew support for the smoking ban shortly after taking office in 2017, dismissing the 900,000 signatories of the “Do Not Smoke” campaign. The discredited former Vice-Chancellor H.C. Strache (FPÖ) had made this withdrawal a key campaign pledge. With FPÖ currently out of the picture, ex-coalition partners ÖVP are prepared to make changes – and perhaps some new alliances too.
Pamela Rendi-Wagner (SPÖ) expressed her approval of the ÖVP’s decision shortly before submitting a proposal for a ban to the Health Committee last Sunday (June 2). The motion will be taken up by the committee later this month, and decided in Parliament in July. “Now, public health can finally become a priority instead of a political calculation,” said Rendi-Wagner, who is a doctor, in reference to the recent coalition collapse. Supporters of the ban, including the Greens and NEOs hope to see it come into effect as early as September this year.
But not everyone is happy with the move. “The ÖVP is making itself compatible to the Left,” former Interior Minister, Herbert Kickl (FPÖ) told Austrian daily Der Sandard, implying a decision that was cynical rather than sincere. Voices for business, such as Karl Baron of the FPÖ club in the Vienna Chamber of Commerce (WKW), see this as an “attack on the gastronomy industry,” which will mean “significant financial damages.”
The Constitutional Court is expected to address the matter during its session opening this week.