It has been almost 15 years since Ireland was the first country in the world to impose a smoking ban, resulting in much of Europe quickly following suit. However, huge numbers of people continue to smoke in Austria, and the most recent attempt to ban smoking indoors was quashed. As a country whose capital has been voted the ‘city with the best quality of life’ numerous times, why is Austria so slow to impose this vital ban?
There is a saying attributed to the composer Gustav Mahler: ‘If the world comes to an end, I shall go to Vienna; everything happens 50 years later there’, referring to the Austrian capital’s reputation for being particularly slow to catch on to trends. This rule of conservatism refers not only to the world of fashion, but also to their rules regarding lifestyle and social habits, such as smoking, which continue to lag way behind many other European countries.
Cigarette machines, which will look like antiques from a bygone era to anyone from the UK or US, are as common as cash machines on the streets of Vienna, and cigarette advertising is still permitted.
Among the reasons why Austrians are so resistant to ban smoking indoors is their insistence that the ban attacks their freedom and will potentially cause harm to local businesses, including restaurants and cafés.
Anyone who has visited Vienna will be well aware of the traditional coffee house culture, famous for many distinctive features: tuxedo-clad waiters, traditional Viennese interiors, and, unfortunately for some, billowing clouds of cigarette smoke. However, this argument was similar to the Brits’ insistence that smoking was an essential emblem of pub culture – but it’s proven to be nothing more than a poor excuse to object to change.
Unsurprisingly, Austria has extremely high smoking rates, particularly among the young, with 52% of men in that age group smoking, and 34% of women.
There have been numerous efforts to enforce the ban, with the most recent attempt being partially scrapped after outrage raised by the far right party, the FPÖ. Instead of a full ban, as of 2018, those who are under 18 will not be permitted to enter smoking rooms of bars and restaurants; smoking will be outlawed in cars if under-18s are inside, and the minimum age for smoking will rise from 16 to 18.