By Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries—
During a day or two in a small town in the Czech Republic this summer, we noticed a local gently chiding two tourists for smoking while standing at a bus stop in a small village. The lady’s reprimand was delivered in the politest possible way, and clearly no offence was taken. The two visitors promptly stubbed out their cigarettes.
A smoke-free Europe?
It was a quiet reminder that European practice with regard to smoking in public places and on transportation still varies widely. And it made us realise just how hard the whole area is for outsiders to fathom. The Czech Republic allows smoking in bars but not at bus stops. In Lithuania it is vice versa.
Hop onto many Finnish long-distance trains and you’ll still find a spot where you can smoke. True, it’ll not be an especially comfortable corner, more like a padded cell with industrial-strength exhaust ventilation. But Finland is very much an exception, for across much of Europe smoking has been banned on all trains for many years. Indeed, Norway banned smoking on all public transportation way back in 1988.
Differences within a country
Trains are one thing, but stations quite another. Try and light up on a Swiss train and the chances are that you’ll quickly be told to desist. Yet you can smoke to your heart’s content on Swiss station platforms. Shift to Germany and the smoking ban extends to most areas of railway stations too, yet some German trains (smoking banned on them too of course) make special stops at obscure railway stations so that smokers can puff away for ten minutes on platforms where in theory lighting up is banned.
Law vs common practice
This little tale highlights just how complex the topic is. The rules vary widely between different European countries, and even between different parts of the same country. And the law and popular practice often differ too. The smoking ban that is sacrosanct in one country is widely ignored elsewhere. The only sound advice we can really give to smokers is ‘If in doubt, ask.’ But the trend is very definitely towards a smoke-free Europe.