Tobacco-loving Serbs face smoking ban
Belgrade - Forget about the economic crisis and unemployment, Serbs have another burning issue on their hands - a smoking ban.
The law restricting smoking that took effect on Thursday has sent shock waves through the tobacco-loving Balkan nation where every third citizen is a smoker and where cigarettes have been part of the daily routine for centuries.
While the law does not impose a complete smoking ban in cafes and restaurants - who must introduce non-smoking areas - smoking is no longer allowed in offices and public areas such as theatres, cinemas or concert halls.
"This is really drastic that we have to go out in the street to smoke," complained Nada Jevremovic, an employee in Serbia's National Museum.
Jevremovic and her colleagues were standing in a small group outside the museum building in downtown Belgrade early on Thursday, unable to have their morning coffee and cigarette ritual indoors.
"Smoking calms me down," Jevremovic said.
Psychologist Zarko Trebjesanin said the ban will be very hard on smokers "who will feel panic and anxiety".
Belgrade cafe owner, Neven Boskovic, said that the number of customers at his shop was down on Thursday.
"The non-smoking area is empty, the smoking area is full," he said.
According to the law, individuals violating the ban can be fined up to 5 000 dinars ($65) and business can be handed a fine of up to 1 million dinars. Authorities said they will be tough in implementing the new rules.
Health Minister Tomica Milosavljevic said the law is a "step forward" for the country that aspires to be an EU member. He said that "it is important that we try to act differently, to reduce the smoke around us".
Numerous anti-smoking campaigns have failed to wean Serbs off smoking, particularly during the crisis years in the 1990s'.
But Trebjesanin, the psychologist, said that the new law might help do that.
"If this could work in so many other countries, why not here?" he said.