TALLINN - Estonia’s restaurant and bar denizens are looking to June 5 with either delight or dread, depending on how they feel about the nation’s new smoking ban which takes effect that day. Under the law smoking in restaurants, cafes, bars, clubs and casinos will be allowed only on outdoor terraces or in closed-off smoking rooms where there will be no service.
The health protection measure puts Estonia, like Latvia and Lithuania, among the growing club of European countries to make their public places smoke-free.
As in other countries where similar anti-smoking laws have been introduced, many bar owners and managers are worried that the regulations will hurt their business.
Those arguments seem strongest for establishments such as cigar lounges and trendy pipe-smoking cafes, whose business is specifically centered around tobacco.
One such business is Hookah-House, a fashionable lounge specializing in Indian food and water pipes.
“I’m sure it will effect turnover,” said manager Monika Poomann. “People don’t want to move from one table to another table. They’re going to either eat and not smoke, or they won’t eat and they will go to the smoking area. Either way we’re going to lose the smoke turnover or the food turnover.”
Other Tallinn venues, like the dive bar Levis’t Valjas, whose main draw is its smoke-filled, counter-culture feel, are likely to be fundamentally transformed by the ban.
“I just can’t imagine how it will work,” said Levis’t bar worker Katri Kuusk. “All people who come here smoke, and so does everyone who works here. I think that the people will go out on the streets to smoke, but they’re not allowed to stay outside on weekends because we have problems with the neighbors.”
Not all bar managers are so negative on the change, however.
“I think it’s a great idea,” said Andy Gleeson, owner-director of Nimeta Baar, “and it’ll stop my staff from smoking so much.”
Gleeson, who was in Australia when that country introduced its smoking ban a year ago, said it was a huge improvement. “The city was much cleaner, there were less cigarette butts around and no dirty ashtrays in bars or restaurants,” he said.
The sentiment was echoed by photographer Graham Mitchell, who was in Sweden when that country’s smoking ban went into effect. “The clubs and bars just felt like different places without all the smoke,” he said.
A self-described “passionate non-smoker,” Mitchell said he was looking forward to the ban. “I’ve had countless numbers of evenings ruined by the physical effects of smoke. It causes problems for me and it causes problems for some of my friends as well,” he said.
Some, however, think that the ban doesn’t go far enough. Mark White, a radio presenter on Energy FM’s morning program, has been discussing the topic on his show in recent weeks.
“I think the Estonian government have copped out by not doing a blanket ban,” he said. A long-time smoker who gave up seven years ago, he believes that people won’t quit the habit if smoking rooms are available.
“It’s not a smoking ban, it’s just moving it to another area,” he said. “The smokers look for any excuse not to smoke. Nobody wants to put this rubbish in their bodies.”
He also rejected the idea that the regulation would hurt business. “I think it will bring in more people who don’t go to bars because they’re so smoky,” he said.
His notion is backed up by a Lithuanian survey published last month, which found that since that nation’s smoking ban came into effect on Jan. 1 of this year, more people said they were going out to restaurants and bars than before.