Austria’s lower house of parliament voted on Thursday to repeal a ban on smoking in public spaces, despite public opposition and the concerns of health groups.
The ban on smoking in restaurants and bars introduced by the previous social-democrat led coalition was set to come into force in May. The far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) insisted that Chancellor Sebastian Kurz include plans to repeal the ban in his government program when agreeing to enter a coalition in December.
Reuters reported that lawmakers from the ruling Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) and the FPÖ stood together in parliament to approve the bill.
Patient and doctors’ groups criticized the decision. In a joint statement, President of the Vienna Medical Association Thomas Szekeres and President of the Austrian Cancer Aid group Paul Sevelda said it set an “exceptionally negative example” that a progressive health policy had been rescinded as a result of “political pact-making and interest-driven politics.”
A petition launched in mid-February opposing the government’s U-turn garnered more than half a million signatures in the space of a few weeks.
In a nod to the public outcry, MPs voted to raise the minimum age for smoking to 18 and ban smoking in cars with kids, according to AFP.