Smokers puff away with impunity in an Austrian Café. Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP
The Austrian doctors' association initiated on Friday a petition in favour of a smoking ban in bars and restaurants that would bring the country into line with most of the rest of Europe.
"We are one of the last counties in Europe not to have a smoking ban," said Paul Sevelda, head of cancer prevention and treatment organisation Krebshilfe Austria.
"And we know from other countries that a ban will lead to an immediate improvement in public health," he said.
The Alpine country is one of Europe's last havens for tobacco lovers and is nicknamed by anti-smoking campaigners the "Ashtray of Europe". People can puff away in bars and eateries under certain conditions including that it is confined to separate rooms, but the rules are widely flouted.
Austria's previous government passed a law in 2015 that had been set to ban the habit in all bars and restaurants from May 1 this year. But the new government, formed in December, has pledged to scrap the law.
It is a pet project of the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe), junior partners in the coalition.
But this has come up against stiff resistance. An unofficial online petition organised by Krebshilfe has garnered more than 450,000 signatures, equivalent to more than five percent of the population.
On Friday Krebshilfe and the Austrian doctors association applied with the interior ministry to launch an official petition that will open for signature in mid-February.
If this attracts more than 100,000 signatures the Austrian parliament will be obliged to debate the issue, which would put pressure on the government to reverse its plans.