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Rakovník - Mr Somol did not wait for political decisions. He is a businessman, and he has decided to run the risk. Now he has a non-smoking pub in Rakovník, central Bohemia.
MPs have been arguing whether to follow other European countries and ban smoking in restaurants for months, but they will not even vote on the relevant bill at the meeting that started this Tuesday, the last one before fall.
Talking with regulars
To some extent, Somol behaved like a politician, though. Starting last autumn, he was looking for opinions and support among regulars and one-time guests, and before the end of the year he declared: "This will be a non-smoking place starting in April." His non-smoking restaurant is the only one of its kind in Rakovník, that has a population of 20,000.
"Do you know what I think about MPs? I'd rather not say. When we talked about smoking with the guys here, some of them told me - do it. They provoked me. Others said - you won't do that to us. In the end, nobody believed I would do it. But somebody must be the first," says Milan Somol, the owner of the Bezděkov restaurant.
He said he would be faster than the MPs, but speed went hand in hand with doubts. "I didn't know the people would react. Although I talked to all the regulars, and the conversations were rough. In the end, I ran the risk."
And the result? "We have more guests than before the ban. Smokers keep coming, and if they feel like a smoke, they go outside. I placed a table out there and marked the smokers' corner. As an emergency option, I thought I might make it a smokers' place again, but that's out of the question now," says Somol.
Traffic in his restaurant has increased 30%. Whole families with children have started to come, and the regulars have stayed - all but one. "Yes, Robert doesn't come anymore. He made it clear: If you ban smoking, I won't come again. He took it as a violation of his freedoms, and he's sulking. But it's his choice," says the owner.
But he also offers a surprising standpoint on the options under discussion in parliament, ranging from an absolute ban to allowing pub owners to decide. "They should leave it up to the owners. I am against a complete ban," says Somol.
We sell cigarettes but don't smoke
The local regulars' table is already full in late afternoon, although it's hot outside and most guests are enjoying the garden restaurant and grilled specialities. "I quit smoking in December. The ban is just perfect. I wanted to try. 'If he bans smoking, I'll quit,'" says Luděk Jirka, a regular.
"It's a big advantage, no one can tell I spent the whole evening in a pub," says another regular, František Krůta.
Radek Tvrz, the bartender, is a smoker. He used to light one behind the bar now and then, but things have changed: He has to walk out or to the storeroom to have a smoke. "I smoke far less than I used to. I don't have time. And I am also less tempted when I see no one smoking here," he says.
Somol's restaurant sells cigarettes despite being a non-smoking venue. Their sales have not decreased since the ban.
Somol is an optimist - as well as a former smoker. "No, don't write that. People will think I've done it because of myself. That's not true. Really, most clients minded the smoke," he says.
"Several years ago, I invested CZK 70,000 in an air filter. We don't use it any more. There's no need. But I'm not sorry about the money," he adds.
"We should survive the next winter somehow. I have already gotten a heater for the smokers' corner. I can't leave them out there like that, can I?"
Adapted and republished by the Prague Daily Monitor