Finland passes new tobacco law

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HELSINKI--Finland has become the first European country to introduce legislation that declares that the involuntary inhaling of tobacco smoke can cause cancer, thereby recognizing a direct health risk and link between second-hand smoke and cancer.

The law was passed on a vote of 131 MPs for and 24 against. The law forms part of the Restricting Smoking Bill, which seeks to ban outright smoking in bars and restaurants. However, the ban will initially apply only to certain areas of bars and restaurants.

The bill follows intensive lobbying by Finnish service trade unions, who together represent 36,000 members employed in hotels, restaurant and bars.

"In the law, ambient tobacco smoke was determined as cancer-causing and this has not been done in Europe yet," says Timo Ihamaki, a member of the Finnish parliament's health committee. Mr. Ihamaki, a doctor, sponsored the bill and says the law would oblige restaurants to keep one third of their premises smoke-free.

Within a period of three years, this would increase to 50%. The law, which will come into force on June 1, obliges employers to provide for more frequent health checks for their staff and allow pregnant employees to take early maternity leave. Mr. Ihamaki dismissed protests by restaurant owners that the new legislation would hurt business and cut jobs.

"If customers do not like breathing other people's smoke, they can leave; but a restaurant or bar worker has to work in these conditions until their shift ends," he says.

The damning clause about second-hand smoke, was a last-minute addition by the health committee, and toughens the government's original draft.

Mr. Simonen says banning smoking in public places would be the simplest way to deal with the problem, although this is not imminent. He says the U.S. is the only other market he is aware of that identifies ambient tobacco smoke as a possible cause of cancer.

Copyright March 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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