Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Montenegro: Smokers Keep on Puffing Away

Republic’s 300,000 nicotine addicts have little to fear from harsh-sounding law that no one is enforcing.
By Dusica Tomovic

Janko Pekovic, the deputy head of a secondary school in Montenegro’s capital, Podgorica, tried to persuade two sanitary inspectors that a “no smoking” regulation imposed in Montenegro last August 10 had not been violated when the two inspectors walked into a cloud of smoke in the staff room to find two ashtrays full and a burning cigarette in one of them.

“We had some visitors and we couldn’t tell them not to smoke,” Pekovic told the inspectors.

“Don’t worry, we agreed this morning that a vacant classroom will be used as a smoking room from now on,” he added.

The two inspectors, Kemal Grbovic and Bogdan Drobnjak, have the unenviable task of enforcing the no smoking regulation all by themselves.

So far, they have got no further than Podgorica, as the health inspection service does not have enough money for them to extend their supervision to other parts of Montenegro.

Hence, only the inhabitants of Podgorica are being warned to put out their cigarettes if the inspectors see them smoking in public.

Montenegro’s parliament banned smoking in public areas several months ago. Grbovic and Drobnjak explain to Janko Pekovic that allocating a “special” smoking room in schools is unacceptable.

Under the law, smoking is not allowed in schools at all, even in backyards.

Although Pekovic’s school broke the law, it got away with a verbal warning. They should have been fined 15,000 euro.

“Situations like this are the stumbling block in enforcing the no-smoking law,” Grbovic said. “The people are still unaware where they are allowed to smoke.”

The new rules prohibit smoking in almost all public locations, including schools, hospitals, the civil service, private companies, airports, bus and railway stations.

The law applies also to public transport, including taxis. Unrestricted smoking is permitted only in the street.

Companies and public institutions are obliged to allocate smoking rooms for employees but this does not apply to schools, hospitals and pharmacies.

But in spite of the passage of the law and the draconian penalties imposed, smokers remain a common sight in many public institutions, including hospitals and government offices.

Not a single bar or restaurant in Podgorica seems to have complied with the rules on allocating no-smoking areas for those who don’t indulge in the habit.

Restaurant owners say it would cost them a lot of money. It would be hard to separate no-smoking from smoking areas, while air conditioning and filtering appliances would be too expensive for most of them.

Recent inspections revealed that only hospitals and pharmacies have put up no smoking signs to warn customers of the new regulations.

Non-governmental organisations fear the no-smoking law may become a dead letter - as easy to ignore as many other regulations passed in recent years by a government that is happy to pass laws but reluctant to enforce them.

They suspect the Montenegrin authorities adopted the law only to justify their declared intention of meeting EU health and safety standards.

Srdjan Vukadinovic, director of the Social Research Centre, CDI, and a university professor, told IWPR the authorities did not intend to enforce a number of “modern” laws they have adopted.

“Laws are being passed with complete disregard for the circumstances and the lack of mechanisms for their enforcement,” Vukadinovic said.

With regard to the anti-smoking law, his claim is supported by the fact that no fines have yet been imposed in a republic which contains about 300,000 smokers, around half Montenegro’s population.

Two charges were pressed against Montenegrin state television for broadcasting a concert of Kemal Monteno, a pop singer, in which he was shown with a cigarette in his mouth. (The new law prohibits any action judged as advertising or glamorizing smoking). But the charges were soon dropped, on account of the “incoherently written complaint by the inspector”.

The law also prohibits the sale of cigarettes to persons under 18 and all facilities selling tobacco are obliged to put up a sign informing the public of this.

However, very few shops selling cigarettes have done so, while a brief look at schoolyards in Podgorica reveals that the law is being treated with total disrespect. In fact, few secondary school students seem not to be smoking.

Grbovic admitted that few shops in Podgorica have complied with the under-18 law and that no one has yet been fined for breaking the law.

The Montenegrin health ministry, which drafted the law and assigned its employees to enforce it, says it will take time to implement it.

Danica Masanovic, Montenegro’s chief sanitary inspector, told IWPR, “The easiest thing is to fine the offenders but we should really act preventively and notify the public about the contents of the law.

“If that doesn’t bear fruit, of course we will resort to repressive measures, such as charges, fines and other penalties.”

The Montenegrin Association for Fighting Cancer, an NGO that launched the initiative for adopting the law three years ago, is disappointed with its implementation.

The association’s secretary, Domagoj Zarkovic, says only two inspectors cannot do much in a country with the third highest rate of smoking per capital in Europe.

“It is hard to fine someone for smoking when the inspectors have no authority to ask citizens to identify themselves,” Zarkovic said. “Imposing fines effectively depends on the willingness of those caught smoking in public to show their ID.”

The association has launched several fruitless appeals to change the regulations to allow the inspectors a police escort.

As matters stand, visitors to what should be non-smoking areas in Montenegro are likely to walk into clouds of smoke.

The low cost of cigarettes makes matters worse. Even the most expensive packs can be bought for only about two euro.

You can buy cigarettes on almost every corner, either in shops or from street dealers. As many are sold illegally, the state is losing out on much of the revenue it is entitled to.

In the late Nineties, legal proceedings were launched by Italian investigators against a number of Montenegrin officials for working with Italian mafia to sell contraband cigarettes. According to charges in two separate cases in Italy, the cigarettes were shipped from Montenegro to Italy in speedboats across the Adriatic.

Italian investigators alleged that Montenegro’s prime minister Milo Djukanovic was involved in the trafficking – charges he denies. Recently, a court in Italy ruled that the premier could not be protected by diplomatic immunity as Montenegro is not an independent state.

Meanwhile, smugglers and street dealers continue to go about their business freely. It is more than likely that the authorities are turning a blind eye to their activities in order to keep social discontent at bay after the economic downturn of the Nineties left thousands dependent on sales of cigarettes on the streets.

Inspectors Grbovic and Drobnjak maintain that implementing the anti-smoking law is made more difficult by the fact that many smokers just won’t accept the new reality.

“They often come up with the excuse that they are unaware of the new law,” said Drobnjak, though, he adds, they’ll soon get the message once he starts issuing hefty fines.

Dusica Tomovic is a journalist with the Vijesti newspaper in Podgorica

More IWPR's Global Voices

FakeWatch Africa
Website to provide multimedia training and resources for fact-checking and investigations.
FakeWatch Africa
Africa's Fake News Epidemic and Covid-19: What Impact on Democracy?