On Friday, Finland is to become the latest European nation to ban smoking in bars and restaurants, a measure that is expected to be introduced fairly painlessly in the tobacco-critical state.
Many EU countries have already banned smoking
Finland already banned smoking in public places in 1977 and in workplaces in 1995, leaving bars and restaurants as the only sanctuary until now.
According to Olli Simonen of the health ministry's department for promotion of welfare and health, Finns have a largely positive view of the new legislation.
"It looks very promising," he told AFP news agency. "In a study conducted at the beginning of April, 77 percent of the population was in favor of the new law. A poll conducted by the European Commission one month later showed that 80 percent were in favor."
A Eurobarometer poll also showed that the complete ban on smoking in all public places is supported by 96 percent of Finns, a higher figure than in the rest of Europe.
Relegated to the outdoors
The latest ban is Finland's second bid at prohibiting smoking in bars and restaurants following a failed 1999 attempt.
"Back then restaurant owners were very much against it," Simonen said. "When we prepared the new legislation (this time), we worked together with employers and unions and have reached a consensus."
Bars, cafés and restaurants larger than 50 square meters (164 square feet) with a proper ventilation system can, during a two-year transition period, set up special smoking sections covering half the size of the premises.
In smaller establishments, cigarettes will be prohibited altogether or smoking rooms will have to be built. The room cannot let out any smoke and customers are not allowed to eat or drink in the special booths.
Establishments failing to comply with the new law risk a fine as do smokers disobeying the law.
In its fight against tobacco, the World Health Organization (WHO) has urged countries to try to bring the number of smokers to under 20 percent of the population. But the only European nation to meet that target so far is Sweden, where 18 percent of people smoke.
Finland wants to make smoking less "cool" among younth
Finland is not far behind. According to the department for promotion of welfare and health, 22 percent of Finns smoke, or 24 percent of men and 19 percent of women.
According to Simonen "the minimum goal is to go under 20 percent."
But the Nordic state still has some way to go before reaching former Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen's goal of a "zero smoking" population. He also proposed banning all tobacco products in Finland by 2040.
"A ban would clearly outline the tobacco policy," Lipponen said. "At the same time it would discourage young people from smoking."
Ireland was the first European state to introduce a complete ban on smoking in public places in March 2004. Since then Norway, Italy, Malta, Sweden, Scotland, Latvia and Lithuania have followed suit.
Wales introduced a ban on April 2, followed by Northern Ireland on April 30.
Belgium, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland and Romania also have similar plans.