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In an attempt to cut down on smoking by teens, a recent Italian law prohibits the operation of automatic cigarette vending machines such as this one near Area 1 at Aviano Air Base from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. The theory is that those under 18 - prohibited by law from smoking in Italy - won't find it as easy to buy cigarettes early in the morning or late at night.
In an attempt to cut down on smoking by teens, a recent Italian law prohibits the operation of automatic cigarette vending machines such as this one near Area 1 at Aviano Air Base from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. The theory is that those under 18 - prohibited by law from smoking in Italy - won't find it as easy to buy cigarettes early in the morning or late at night. (Kent Harris / S&S)

It may be the beginning of the end of smoking in all buildings other than private residences in Italy.

Last week, anti-smoking legislation went into effect giving venues such as restaurants 12 months to install specific, regulated smoking areas or ban the practice altogether.

The first major anti-smoking law was passed in 1975, and a few other similar measures have been adopted since then.

But the edict that started with the new year — and that fully goes into force Jan. 13, 2005 — may have a bit more momentum than past efforts. The country’s health minister, Girolamo Sirchia, is a leading cancer expert and anti-smoking proponent. He helped push through the measure, which in theory could be enforced immediately.

“It’s very difficult to understand Italian law,” said Barbara Tufo, whose family runs the San Giorgio Spaghetti House restaurant in Aviano.

Restaurants may be forced to spend thousands of euros to install the equipment necessary to have a smoking area.

But Tufo’s parents, Carmine and Clelia, won’t have to worry. Their restaurant has been smoke-free for more than two years.

Tufo said the family decided smoke fumes were driving customers away. So they bought signs, posted them, and have had few complaints since then.

“The Americans, they enjoy it,” she said. “Many Italians do, too.”

But Tufo said her family doesn’t know how it’s supposed to help enforce the new law.

“If we see someone smoking and they won’t stop, do we call the police?” she asked. “We don’t know.”

Under the new law, police can issue fines ranging from 25 to 250 euros. If a pregnant woman or a child under 12 is present, the fines are doubled. Business owners who don’t eventually comply face larger fines.

Pierangelo Calderan, who runs Tussi’s restaurant — another popular destination for Americans in Aviano — said he wasn’t thinking primarily of his customers when he banned smoking about a year ago.

A nonsmoker, Calderan said he wanted a safe environment for his employees to work. So he snorts at the idea of establishing a specific place for smokers to light up, saying that would still endanger his employees.

He said his customers have had mixed reactions to the change.

“With Americans, I don’t have a problem,” he said. “They go out in the garden and smoke. No complaints. With Italians … I tell them if they don’t want to be here, they can go to a different restaurant.”

Of course, that might not be an option if no other restaurants in the area decide to spend the money to create a designated smoking area. Such areas have to be designed to not allow smoke to drift into the rest of the building, meaning smoke-proofing construction and high-powered fans need to be installed.

Told about the changes, some Americans expressed surprise.

“I think that’s going to be huge for the European people,” said Airman 1st Class Tony Plyler.

Plyler said he could understand why Italians might not be happy with the law.

“I smoke a cigar sometimes,” he said. “If I wanted to smoke a cigar after dinner, I think that I should be able to do so.”

Airman 1st Class Breanna Rende, one of the friends he was eating with at the Spaghetti House, said she could see both sides.

“My parents are smokers, so I’m used to it,” she said. “But I can see how it might bother some people.”

Italians, in general, are skeptical about enforcement of the new law.

“We are very flexible about our laws,” said one woman who didn’t want to give her name.

Vending machines

Smokers will not only have fewer places to puff away, but under new laws that recently went into effect in Italy, they’ll find it harder to buy cigarettes.

One of the new laws banned the operation of automatic cigarette vending machines from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. The new laws don’t limit sales in tobacco shops or stores during those hours.

The vending machines measure targets smoking by teenagers. People can’t legally light up in Italy until they’re 18 years old. Since a machine can’t determine the age of a customer, everyone’s banned from using them during what officials consider to be the most likely hours a teen would purchase them.

Such machines have, until recently, advertised 24-hour service. One such machine is within a few blocks of Area 1 at Aviano Air Base. That’s where the Department of Defense Dependents School is located.

High school principal Doug McEnery said smoking isn’t allowed at school. He said he doesn’t have proof that students were using the machine, but “I’d be a fool to think they weren’t.”

The fact that the machine has two signs — one in English and one in Italian — explaining the new regulations suggests that at least some Americans are frequent customers.

McEnery said if limiting hours cuts down on teen smoking, he’s all for it.

“I think it’ll have a positive impact on the kids.”

— Kent Harris

Migrated
Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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