The general smoking ban doesn’t come into force until May 2018 but 500 bar and restaurant owners and die-hard smokers gathered outside the parliament with a petition, demanding a referendum on whether the ban should come into force.
Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache was there to support the pro-smoking lobby and promised the crowd that “if I become chancellor this law will not happen”.
He said that he smokes and believes that the ban is a step too far. “Next, chocolate will be forbidden and we’ll have to pay a fine if we don’t follow a vegan diet,” he said.
However his speech was interrupted when an elderly man in the crowd collapsed and fell unconscious to the floor. Strache called for a doctor after it became clear the man had had a heart attack.
Two policeman who were on duty performed CPR and called the emergency services. The man was taken to hospital and is said to be in a serious condition.
Currently, smoking is banned in public places in Austria under a 2009 law but restaurants and cafes are exempted and the legislation is not tightly enforced.
Opponents of a general ban have gathered 300,000 signatures in favour of a referendum, many from those who work in the catering industry and believe their businesses will suffer as a result of the ban.
The protesters made themselves heard by shaking cow bells and blowing whistles and some people had even bought their children along – despite the clouds of cigarette smoke.
On Tuesday the Lower Austrian councillor for health, Maurice Androsch (SPÖ) presented a study on tobacco use in Lower Austria, which showed that smoking is responsible for more than 40 diseases, as well as causing premature ageing.
He said that two thirds of those polled were in favour of a general smoking ban, that six out of ten smokers said they wished they could quit, and that the IFES survey also showed that employees felt at risk from passive smoking in the workplace.