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By Jaylan Boyle, Senior Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO – Rio’s anti-smoking state law 5.517/09, which took effect on the 17th of this month, has survived an eleventh hour challenge from a syndicate of bars and hotels, and appears to have met with overall compliance, with one exception reported.

An awning outside a bar that is now off limits to smokers, photo by Jaylan Boyle.
An awning outside a bar that is now off limits to smokers, photo by Jaylan Boyle.

The law, enacted in August by Rio state governor Sergio Cabral, would see any infraction by bars and restaurants attracting a fine from R$30,000 upwards, depending on a tax assessment that would be carried out.

State Law 5.517/09 goes further than the existing federal legislation, and prohibits smoking in any public establishment, including under awnings and balconies where the flow of smoke is not protected from other patrons by barrier or partition. Only sidewalk tables in bars and restaurants will be exempt, so long as the interior of the establishment is adequately protected from the flow of smoke.

The law extends even to private residences such as apartment buildings that have public spaces. These spaces are deemed smoke-free and will not be allowed to have ashtrays present, and must display signage making residents aware of the law change.

A drive to educate porteiros of these buildings has been enacted, and the coordinator of the ‘Rio Sem Fumo’ (Rio without smoke) campaign, pulmonologists Waldir Leopercio has warned that regular and random inspections will be carried out in the months ahead, with stiff penalties to be levied against non-compliant buildings.

On the same day as the law took effect, it appeared that the union of bars, hotels, and restaurants, called SindRio, had successfully mired the legislation in technicality, as Judge Luiz Henrique ruled that the state cannot legislate on the subject of smoking as it would be a breach of the country’s constitution, and that the less restrictive federal law was already in place and could not be superseded.

Alexandre Sampaio (right), president of the Union of Hotels, Bars and Restaurants, photo by Gabeira/Flickr Creative Commons License.
Alexandre Sampaio (right), president of the Union of Hotels, Bars and Restaurants, photo by Gabeira/Flickr Creative Commons License.

However, the decision was annulled less than 24 hours later by the same judge, after the state submitted that the injunction had already been denied by another judge. SindRio, which represents around 2000 bars, hotels and restaurants, has said it plans to further pursue the matter.

President of SindRio Alexandre Sampaio says that the Department of Health has been extremely vague about the legislation, and that the law represents a major potential downturn for the industry. “We have a projection of up to 15 percent loss of customers because of the smoke-free law” he said.

Thus far there has been only one reported case of non-compliance around the city. The Department of Health and Surveillance on Wednesday the 18th had targeted around 25 establishments in the Botofogo-Humaita area, and handed out one infringement to an undisclosed Humaita bar.

Of those commenting on the many blogs and surveys dedicated to the subject recently, there seems to be overwhelming support for the legislation, even among smokers, though many are saying that the prohibition in separate outdoor areas goes too far.

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