‘Freedom to smoke’: What do people in Milan think of the city’s new outdoor smoking ban?

A ban on smoking in many outdoor public places came into force in the Italian city of Milan on Tuesday. But some residents said they were not aware of the rules, or that it won't change their habits.

'Freedom to smoke': What do people in Milan think of the city's new outdoor smoking ban?
A woman smokes a cigarette on Milan's Piazza del Duomo on Tuesday. Photo: Piero Cruciatti/AFP

Italy’s financial capital on Tuesday became the first city in the country to ban smoking in many open-air public places such as parks, stadiums, bus stops and cemeteries.

There are exemptions for lighting up in isolated spots, at a distance of 10 metres or more from other people – as well as for electronic cigarettes.

The smoking ban is intended to “reduce PM10 fine particles, which are harmful to the lungs, and protect the health of citizens against active and passive smoking in public places,” according to the city council.

READ ALSO: These are the 55 most polluted towns in Italy

Situated in the middle of the industrial Po Valley and choked with road traffic, Milan regularly breaks air quality records – and eight percent of the PM10 particles in the city are due to smoking.

Fines for breaking the new law range from 40 to 240 euros – although they will be only gradually introduced.

By January 1st  2025, however, Milan plans to have a total ban on smoking in the open air. 

“It’s about time they passed this law. We’re fed up with this smoke!” declared Massimo Gabbiadini, a shopkeeper in Piazza del Duomo, on Tuesday, “But I will wait and see if the rules are enforced.” 

“In the north of Europe people respect the law, but in Italy?” 54-year-old Gabbiadini told AFP.

The usual throngs of tourists outside Milan’s cathedral were absent on Tuesday because of coronavirus restrictions, and most passers-by were local residents on their way to work.

Photo: Piero Cruciatti/AFP

Milan and the surrounding Lombardy region is currently a red zone due to the local level of contagion risk, which means a ban on movement even within your own town except for essential reasons.

Among those walking past the police officers standing guard, many with cigarettes between their lips seemed unaware of the change in the law.

“There’s no sign saying you can’t smoke in certain places,” complained Floris Dethmers, an 18-year-old model in Milan for men’s fashion week.

“I understand that it’s banned inside. But outside, I want the freedom to smoke.”

21-year-old Laura Beraldo said she’s not ready to give up her 20-a-day habit, whatever the rules.

“I don’t blame cigarettes for the smog, but the traffic and global warming,” she said. 

For now “there are no restrictions on the freedom to smoke, as long as I respect the 10-metre rule.”

Some smokers welcomed the ban, such as Maria Luigia di Toma, an unemployed receptionist.

“I think it’s fair, because smoking is really annoying for people around you,” the 63-year-old said.

Italy was a pioneer in Europe in banning smoking in closed public spaces, notably bars and restaurants, in 2005 – and such prohibitions are now widespread.

It has had an impact. Since 2005, the number of smokers aged 15 and over in Italy has fallen by one million to 11.6 million, according to a study by the ISS health agency.

However the country’s smoking laws today are more lax than in some other countries, and there are frequent calls to extend the bans on smoking to restaurant terraces, beaches, and other outdoor public areas.

Milan is so far the only Italian city to have a ban on smoking in outdoor public areas.
In Florence, the city council also plans to introduce a ban on smoking “in public parks, gardens and in other places that are usually crowded and where youngsters gather” by June 2021.
Other Italian cities including Verona and Bolzano already outlaw smoking in public parks – though not on the streets – while Venice has proposed making parts of its historic centre no-smoking zones (without passing any legislation to date).

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Italy’s constitutional court upholds Covid vaccine mandate as fines kick in

Judges on Thursday dismissed legal challenges to Italy's vaccine mandate as "inadmissible” and “unfounded”, as 1.9 million people face fines for refusing the jab.

Italy's constitutional court upholds Covid vaccine mandate as fines kick in

Judges were asked this week to determine whether or not vaccine mandates introduced by the previous government during the pandemic – which applied to healthcare and school staff as well as over-50s – breached the fundamental rights set out by Italy’s constitution.

Italy became the first country in Europe to make it obligatory for healthcare workers to be vaccinated, ruling in 2021 that they must have the jab or be transferred to other roles or suspended without pay.

The Constitutional Court upheld the law in a ruling published on Thursday, saying it considered the government’s requirement for healthcare personnel to be vaccinated during the pandemic period neither unreasonable nor disproportionate.

Judges ruled other questions around the issue as inadmissible “for procedural reasons”, according to a court statement published on Thursday.

This was the first time the Italian Constitutional Court had ruled on the issue, after several regional courts previously dismissed challenges to the vaccine obligation on constitutional grounds.

A patient being administered a Covid jab.

Photo by Pascal GUYOT / AFP

One Lazio regional administrative court ruled in March 2022 that the question of constitutional compatibility was “manifestly unfounded”.

Such appeals usually centre on the question of whether the vaccine requirement can be justified in order to protect the ‘right to health’ as enshrined in the Italian Constitution.

READ ALSO: Italy allows suspended anti-vax doctors to return to work

Meanwhile, fines kicked in from Thursday, December 1st, for almost two million people in Italy who were required to get vaccinated under the mandate but refused.

This includes teachers, law enforcement and healthcare workers, and the over 50s, who face fines of 100 euros each under rules introduced in 2021.

Thursday was the deadline to justify non-compliance with the vaccination mandate due to health reasons, such as having contracted Covid during that period.

Italy’s health minister on Friday however appeared to suggest that the new government may choose not to enforce the fines.

“It could cost more for the state to collect the fines” than the resulting income, Health Minister Orazio Schillaci told Radio Rai 1.

He went on to say that it was a matter for the Economy and Finance Ministry, but suggested that the government was drawing up an amendment to the existing law.

READ ALSO: Covid vaccines halved Italy’s death toll, study finds

The League, one of the parties which comprises the new hard-right government, is pushing for fines for over-50s to be postponed until June 30th 2023.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni had promised a clear break with her predecessor’s health policies, after her Brothers of Italy party railed against the way Mario Draghi’s government handled the pandemic in 2021 when it was in opposition.

At the end of October, shortly after taking office, the new government allowed doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals to return to work earlier than planned after being suspended for refusing the Covid vaccine.

There has been uncertainty about the new government’s stance after the deputy health minister in November cast doubt on the efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines, saying he was “not for or against” vaccination.

Italy’s health ministry continues to advise people in at-risk groups to get a booster jab this winter, and this week stressed in social media posts that vaccination against Covid-19 and seasonal flu remained “the most effective way to protect ourselves and our loved ones, especially the elderly and frail”.