Author: Ajla Omerhodzic

The arrival of winter to some might mean the season of plenty of hot cocoa and warm teas accompanied by quality time of hanging out with friends indoors, but the reality in Bosnia and Herzegovina is that spending time indoors, at least at public catering facilities, tends to be far from idyllic. Namely, most catering facilities - cafés, restaurants, and even mountain cabins at nearby mountains - are filled with smoke, which only gets worse with the colder weather and more people wanting to stay away from the freezing temperatures outside.

Regardless of the time of year, smoking is an issue that not only negatively affects the health of those who smoke, but also those who are passively breathing in the second-hand smoke around them, due to which going out to a café or restaurants to grab a drink or something to eat seems like a mission impossible to non-smokers, people preferring to stay away from unhealthy habits, people with children, or those who suffer from health issues especially related to the lung airways.

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Why is that so? Although popularity of a healthier lifestyle trend appears to be on the rise, there is no legislation that would ban or limit smoking in either closed or outdoor public places at any level in Bosnia and Herzegovina. That is why finding a tobacco smoke-free place in Sarajevo or anywhere else in the country is priceless to whoever wishes to avoid the negative effects of tobacco.

The Association PROI, which implements the anti-smoke initiative ‘Smeta Mi’ (‘It Bothers Me’), has created an online map of smoke-free public places in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which can be easily accessed and is continuously updated with new places. This goes on to show that awareness about providing citizens with smoke-free places to go to is growing slowly but surely. Such a helpful map should promote and label smoke-free public places to help anyone who wants to find public smoke-free locations, whether it be cafés, restaurants, hostels and hotels, hair salons or other facilities. The map is only a part of a broader project that the Association PROI implements with the aim to achieve limiting or completely banning smoking in public places and raise awareness about the detrimental health effects of tobacco.

The campaign ‘Smeta Mi’ is the first public campaign to address the problem of tobacco use and indirect smoking in Bosnia and Herzegovina, within the initiative for control of tobacco for the sake of saving lives by advocating public policies that prevent smoking, help smokers quit this habit, and ultimately protect the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina from passive smoking.

No Smoking sign 1

In 2016 and 2017, the campaign was part of the EU-funded project ‘Exercising Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms through Tobacco Control’, which focused on promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the field of economic, social and cultural rights by emphasizing the right to quality standards of living that enable health and well-being. As part of the campaign, the Association PROI has created the map, brought together over 55 organizations and companies that support adoption of a new law on tobacco control in the FBiH, collected over 10,000 signatures through a petition for support to adoption of this law, and started regularly informing the public about harmful consequences of consuming tobacco and tobacco products together with the progress of the campaign via its official website and the social media accounts - Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

The petition for support of the legislation on tobacco control continues, and can be signed online.

During this campaign, the Association PROI is actively cooperating with the FBiH Ministry of Healthcare on harmonization of legislation with the EU regulations and the World Health Organization (WHO) conventions in the field of tobacco control. The cooperation reflects in carrying out joint activities, organizing public debates, and functioning of a task force in charge of development of the law.

The proposal for a new law on control and limiting the use of tobacco, tobacco products and other smoking products in the FBiH stipulates maximum compliance with the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and the EU Tobacco Products Directive. The new law on tobacco control in the FBiH is currently in the form of a proposal and was adopted by the FBiH Government last July. This law is expected to be adopted by the Parliament of the FBiH soon in order to take effect. The specific provisions of the law defined measures for adequately addressing all the related issues, and thus stipulate: restriction of tobacco use in all indoor and workplaces; ban on use of terms such as ‘light’, ‘superlight’, ‘less smell’ and similar labels on tobacco product packages; filling a minimum of 65% of the surface of the tobacco product packaging with graphic health warnings; ban on emphasized display of tobacco products at the point of sale; and ban on all kinds of advertising, gift giving, bonuses, premiums, coupons, discounts on prices, sponsorship of events and activities by the tobacco industry.

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The Association PROI issued a statement to Pulse.ba, signed by PROI Executive Director Uliana Bakh, elaborating on the state of awareness of the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina when it comes to the issue of smoking. “This initiative has given voice to thousands of citizens, who have been expecting the government to act in the interest of citizens for years, instead of in the interests of the tobacco industry. One of the requirements is to urgently pass new comprehensive tobacco control laws, currently in legislative procedure in both entities, the adoption of which would not only protect the health of all citizens of this country but also open the doors to further progress towards EU integration and meeting international obligations”, the statement reads.

According to the statement, a study that the Institute of Economics in Sarajevo conducted in late 2016 in collaboration with PROI found that both smokers and non-smokers in the FBiH supported a complete restriction on the use of tobacco products in closed public facilities. The results of this study, which covered a sample of more than 1,000 citizens in five cities in the FBiH, showed that over 70% of citizens supported the ban on smoking in closed public places, workplaces, and places of public gathering.  

Some catering facilities in Bosnia and Herzegovina have separate non-smoking area, but organizers and participants of the campaign ‘Smeta Mi’ are not satisfied with such partial solutions, so they advocate a complete ban on smoking in closed public places. There are various reasons why just a separate non-smoking area is considered ineffective and there is a need for a stricter solution, and these are some of them:

  • Ineffective protection against secondhand smoke - separate rooms for smokers, even those with physical barriers, have been shown to provide insufficient protection against exposure to tobacco smoke, which is very persistent, easily passes through even the smallest cracks, and lingers in the air for a long time;
  • Tobacco smoke in catering facilities is hazardous - it affects the health of both the customers and the workers at the facility;
  • Lack of an option of separate non-smoking premises is a progressive and evident global trend - even those countries that currently have designated smoking areas are moving towards the trend of abolishing such separation, including Austria which introduced a total ban on smoking in closed public places on November 1 of this year, without any possibility of having separate area;
  • Impracticality and lack of cost-effectiveness - given the worldwide trend of completely limiting indoor smoking and the fact that sooner or later separate areas could be a matter of past, all the investment in ventilation and insulation up to that point would prove to be unprofitable; and
  • The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control - it is an international legal obligation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and it clearly indicates the harmfulness of tobacco smoke by recommending a complete ban on the consumption of tobacco products indoors as the only effective way to protect against the harmful health effects of second-hand smoke.

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The World Health Organization (WHO) warned that tobacco use is the leading cause of death, illness and impoverishment, referring to the tobacco epidemic as to “one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced, killing more than eight million people a year around the world”. “More than seven million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use while around 1.2 million are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke”, the WHO stated.

While banning smoking in indoor public places may seem utopian, some neighboring countries, such as Serbia, have successfully implemented this measure and serve as a bright example of how it is possible to protect the citizens while not causing discontent of the seemingly vast smoking population.

Supporting the initiative ‘Smeta Mi’ through joining the petition and supporting its anti-smoke activities might just bring Bosnia and Herzegovina a step closer to this progressive trend, which is simultaneously a necessity when it comes to health protection.