For smokers in Italy, the rules are changing. Come January 2005 smoking will be banned in all bars and restaurants, unless the owner is prepared to provide a specially ventilated area for smokers. But in a country where the habit is widespread, you might be forgiven for thinking you can light up almost anywhere.

One in four Italians is a regular smoker. This year alone around 90,000 will die of a smoking-related disease. But whats really staggering is that in Italy the number of doctors who smoke is higher than the average for the country as a whole. The situation is improving, but five years ago around 30-40 per cent of doctors smoked. This could explain why you still frequently find people lighting up in hospitals.

Where smoking is banned

Hospital corridors topped the list of public places where smoking was banned when the first anti-smoking law was passed in 1975. Other places included:

Classrooms in all schools

State vehicles used to transport groups of people

The metro

Waiting rooms at railway stations and airports

Sleeping carriages and non-smoking compartments on trains

Premises used for public meetings

Cinemas, theatres, dance halls, ballrooms and betting shops

Museums, libraries, art galleries, reading rooms and academic

meeting rooms

In 1995, administrative offices open to the public were added to the list, for example:

All hospital buildings and other medical centres

Regional and local administration offices

Post offices, tax offices and banks

Police stations and judicial offices

Public service offices such as those of telephone, gas and electricity

companies

A new, much tougher anti-smoking law will come into force in January 2005, according to which only places not open to the public will be exempt. All bars, restaurants and clubs will be smoke-free zones, although owners may provide a special area for smokers, which must be smaller than the non-smoking part of the premises and out of the way of non-smokers.

Professor Giacomo Mangiaracina is president of the Italian society for the study of the effects

of tobacco, SITAB, and

also works closely with the Italian anti-tumour league, campaigning against smoking. He believes the latest law will bring about a cultural change. Before, all bars were for smokers, he explains. If owners wanted to do something for non-smokers they could. Now its the opposite. They have to do something for the smokers if they want to accommodate them.

Any bar or restaurant owner who doesnt comply with the new rules next January will face a fine and temporary closure of the premises. Sporadic checks will be carried out. Many bars have already decided to become smoke-free, and figures show their profits have increased rather than fallen, as many feared would happen.

In a new initiative, Liberta di non fumare, by Trenitalia, smoking will be banned completely on all Eurostar and new intercity tains as of

1 March this year. Smoking is already banned on regional, interregional and sleeper trains.

Fines

Those caught lighting up in a place where smoking is banned could be fined 25-250, double if caught smoking in the presence of a woman who is obviously pregnant or a child of 12 or younger.

Failure to display a No smoking sign where required to do so could result in a fine of 200-2,000. The fine for smoking on a smoke-free

train is 7.

In the workplace

Private offices are still exempt under the latest law but employers have a duty to their staff to make sure there is enough healthy air in the workplace. Although it may seem that people are free to smoke in any place not covered by the laws above, rulings in Italys constitutional court have made it clear that the right to clean air comes before the right to smoke a cigarette.

St Anthony Abbot in Capena

While governments around the world are busy cracking down on smoking, it appears the message still hasnt reached one small town to the north of Rome. At their recent festival of St Anthony Abbot (celebrated on the first Sunday after 17 January), residents of Capena, including children as young as six, spent the day smoking as they and their ancestors have done for hundreds of years.

The lighting of bonfires is a feature of most St Anthony Abbot festivals in towns and villages around Italy, as is the blessing of animals since the saint is their patron. However, Capena appears to be the only place where smoking also forms a major part of the festival.

Early in the morning a bonfire is lit in one of the towns squares and people come throughout the day to light their cigarettes from it. It began with the smoking of rosemary in pipes, and some are still loyal to this tradition, but as times changed cigarettes became the norm.

One interesting aspect of the event is that it appears to have passed

the anti-smoking lobby by completely, and it is common practice for parents

in Capena to give their children a few cigarettes or even a whole packet

for the day.

Many of the younger children who take part go along with their parents, but there are others who are unsupervised and smoke throughout the day, until the fire dies out in the evening.

Picture: In Capena north of Rome children celebrate the feast day of St Anthony Abbot by lighting cigarettes from a bonfire and spending the day smoking. Photo by Emanuele Brai.