Smoking Ban in Austria Passed After Years of Political Wrangling

Posted: February 12, 2020

November 1, 2019—After years of political volleying and public outcry, Austria implemented a full indoor smoking ban in bars, cafes, and restaurants. With its capitol, Vienna, consistently being voted “the most livable city in the world” according to an index compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit,1 the decrease in Austria’s smoking rates still lagged far behind the rest of Europe. As of 2014, rates for adults (aged 15 or older) who smoked daily were comparable with rates in 1997 (24%) and increased slightly since 2006 (23%). These rates can be contrasted with the marked decline seen in 93% of Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries during the same time period; on average, smoking rates decreased from 26% in 2000 to 19% in 2014.2

As the IASLC Lung Cancer News reported in August 2018, the new ruling coalition in Austria, the far-right People’s Party and the Freedom Party, reversed this same ban in May 2018, arguing that it was an example of excess interference from the government and that it restricted the people’s freedom of choice. During the election campaign, party leader Heinz-Christian Strache, an avid smoker, promised a reversal of the ban.3 After the election, Strache made this a non-negotiable condition for entering a coalition government with the conservative People’s Party. People’s Party leader Chancellor Kurz, a nonsmoker who supported tobacco control prior to the election, accepted this demand to form a functioning government.

In retaliation to this political move, more than 900,000 signatures (out of 8.8 million residents in Austria) were captured on a petition. To strengthen the petition, lawsuits were fi led in Austria’s institutional court in June 2018 by inn-keepers, waiters, and the government of Vienna against the cancellation of the smoke-free hospitality industry policy. The Ministry of Health then drafted an ordinance to limit exposure in smoking sections for underage trainees to no more than 1 hour per day. Guidance for enforcement of this ordinance was not provided, however.

The coalition government fell apart in May 2019 shortly after a scandal, and the interim government passed the long-awaited ban. ✦

1. The Economist. Global Livability Index. Accessed December 21, 2019.

2. Karasz P. Austria’s Far Right Wants the Freedom to Smoke. The New York Times. March 18, 2018. Accessed May 5, 2018.

3. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. OECD Health Policy Overview: Healthy Policy in Austria. Published March 2017. Accessed December 21, 2019.