One opposition politician said the government had made “a deliberate decision today in favor of death.” Some 13,000 people die every year in the Alpine country due to smoking-related complications.
Austria’s parliament voted on Thursday to scrap a smoking ban in bars and restaurants set to enter force in May.
Lawmakers from the ruling center-right People’s Party (ÖVP) and far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) voted to overturn the ban that the previous government had passed.
The FPÖ had pledged to scrap the ban as part of its electoral campaign in late 2017. Party officials said they wanted to protect Austrians’ “freedom of choice” and protect restaurant and bar owners who would be adversely affected by the ban.
‘Ashtray of Europe’
Anti-smoking advocates have nicknamed Austria, where about 13,000 people die every year of smoking-related complications, the “Ashtray of Europe.” Thirty percent of people over the age of 15 smoke, according to the European Union’s statistical agency Eurostat.
The country allows people to light up in restaurants and bars so long as they sit in a separate area. Bars smaller than 50 square meters (540 square feet) have the right to allow smoking throughout the premise.
But critics have said the rules are not always respected in larger establishments and people in non-smoking areas still inhale second-hand smoke.
‘In favor of death’
“Until today, there has been no country in the world that has taken a step backwards on protecting non-smokers,” said Pamela Rendi-Wagner of the opposition Social Democrats (SPÖ) ahead of the vote.
More than 540,000 people signed a non-binding petition calling on the government to keep the ban.
The ruling coalition also voted raise the minimum age for smoking to 18 and outlawed smoking in cars if underage passengers are in the vehicle. The changes are set to enter force in 2019.
But those changes were not enough to assuage some critics.
Speaking in the parliament, opposition politician Matthias Strolz said: “You are acting against science and without a conscience. You are making a deliberate decision today in favor of death.”