Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN
The nearer end of the four-year term, the weirder bills pass scrutiny of the Lithuanian Parliament, Seimas. First, the legislature has green-lit mandatory carding of all liquor buyers from September 1 and, now, the lawmakers have come close this week to banning smoking in flats’ balconies, terraces and outdoor patios.
What lies behind?
Anybody lighting up the cigarette within the radius of 10 meters of a flat block, will risk fine, too.
The amendments to the Tobacco Control Law also foresee banning any cigarette puff nearer than five meters to children playgrounds. And moreover: any person under 18 caught with a fag between his fingers will be culpable for misdemeanour.
«Frankly speaking, I see quite a few strange bills having been passed or paving their way at the Parliament lately. And this one, on balcony smoking, is one of them. It seems the nearer end of the parliamentary term is the more off-kilter bills we are having,» Agnė Bilotaitė, a Conservative MP, told BNN.
The MPs’ twisted thinking, exhaustion and anxiety over the life after the term is over are the reasons for the appearance of such legislation.
«Some of the colleagues, I reckon, try to catch up with what they might have missed during the term. Others apparently cater to the narrow interests of some of their voters out there. And there are also those who seek to muddle through dubious legal initiatives, expecting that the public’s eye is too weary to spot them now,» the parliamentarian reasoned.
Another round of voting will be held
In the first round of voting for the amendments to the Tobacco Control Law, 38 MPs expressed their support for them, 21 voted against and three abstained. To get the tweaked bill passed, the second round of ballot will be held.
Although the bill has triggered public’s outcry, Antanas Matulas, a staunch Conservative and the spearhead of the draft, is adamantly defending the rigorous prepositions.
«Look, at Parliament, we have been receiving many complaints and criticism over many neighbours’ irresponsible behaviour (smoking) at blocks of flats. Therefore, many of us living in the type of housing are stripped of possibility to protect ourselves and, importantly, our children. In fact, many of us are being subjected to precarious passive smoking. Tobacco smoke penetrates walls and often poisons people in their own flats…People experience not only inconveniences but harm is being done to their health, too,» Matulas defended the draft.
He is not alone in the Lithuanian Parliament with intentions to curb smoking in public through a tougher law.
MPs see new amendments as «tool»
For example, Sergejus Jovaiša, the Soviet era former basketball star-turned legislator, has proposed to ban smoking inside cars with children in them.
But Matulas surprisingly admits he does not expect the amendments to do wonders.
«I see them, first of all, as a tool for the people who cannot bear cigarette smoke in their proximity. When they urge now their neighbours smoking in the balconies behind the balcony partition to quit (smoking), they are usually accosted with the same answer: «Why should we to do so? There is no law prohibiting smoking in your own balcony.»
Reminded that the tougher amendments to the Noise Prevention Law has not yielded the desired results – a quieter neighborhood –Matulas shoots back that many people now, nevertheless, tend to take a look at the watch and turn the music down.
«I hope the amendments to the Tobacco Control Law can do the same – bring awareness and serve as a warning that administrative penalty against the infringers,» emphasised Matulas.
Some previous law tweaks played out well
The Conservative also notes that making smoking illegal on staircases of flat blocks has played out well for residents.
«One has to agree that many have already fallen out of the ill habit. Hopefully, the same can be done with smoking in balconies,» the MP says.
Arguing for the bill, he also pays attention that many local communities of flat complexes resort to their own measures in fighting smoking inside the buildings or nearby.
«Some of the communities have imposed their own rules and penalize violators for breaching them. The violators are forced to pay fines and the money is put in the community’s single till. For the money, the communities print out leaflets informing of the policy at the block and so on. We have to heed the good examples. If we do that, we can wean smokers off their ill habit in public areas, too,» Matulas in convinced.
The MP also brought up the example of a flat block community in the town of Panevėžys in north-eastern Lithuania, which coalesced in fighting smoking in common areas.
«The people collected a number of signatures urging to ban smoking in common areas, and balconies, too, and lodged the initiative with the local municipality,» the MP remembered.
The petition, however, did not find support within the ranks of Panevėžys Councilmen, who citing the constitutionally embedded provision on inviolability of private property, refused to pass the required constriction.
Now is the Parliament’s turn, and Matulas is convinced it can produce it.
But Juozas Antanaitis, president «Mano būstas», Lithuania’s Private Accommodation Management and Maintenance Association, is one of plenty of Lithuanians who believes that such Tobacco control law amendments are redundant.
«They are sheer crap, absolutely inapplicable in the reality,» Antanaitis told BNN before adding: «I’d like to ask the prudes how many Lithuanians have been fined for the previously adopted crazy amendment to the law, i.e. penalizing the driver if there is a pregnant woman inside the car? I have not heard of such a single case.»
Sneering at the MPs who came in support of the contested amendments, he rhetorically asked the author of the article what would happen with those who will be puffing electronic cigarettes in their balconies.
«Or those who will smoke special pipes because of certain health issues? For example, asthma?» Antanaitis pointed out. «What about these and another cases?» the association head pressed for an answer.
«Unfortunately, in Lithuania, we tend to resort to bans way more often than it is necessary,» the association head summed up.
MPs «overexerted» themselves?
Agreeing, Bilotaitė, the MP, says that the fellow lawmakers have «overexerted» themselves with the proposed Tobacco Control Law changes.
«When we go over certain length, we (MPs) look weird to the public. But as we live in a democratic country, every lawmaker is entitled to propose a legislative initiative. And that is exactly what some of my colleagues did,» she underscored.