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Black Monday for Hungary’s Smokers

November 1, 1999

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) _ Knots of men and women formed outside Budapest offices Monday, dragging deeply on cigarettes as a new tough anti-smoking law took effect across the country.

``It’s OK now, but what’ll we do when it’s freezing out?″ asked bank clerk Julia Keresztes, 36, enjoying a smoke in the wonderful Indian summer, with temperatures in the low 60s.

Employers nationwide had until Monday to designate a smoking area. A cursory look about the capital indicates they have mainly chosen the outdoors.

Under the new law, smoking is totally banned in health service areas, as well as schools and other places where children congregate.

The law also prohibits children under 18 from buying cigarettes, causing worry among the tobacco industry and shop owners, who say they stand to lose money.

Fines for selling cigarettes to underage customers start at $125 _ two-thirds the national average monthly wage.

Setting a strict example, Janos Ader, speaker of the house of parliament, banned smoking throughout the vast neo-Gothic building, save for the former telephone room, which is the size of an average kitchen.

``I think I’ll go to the men’s room to smoke, just like when I was 17 and in school,″ Gabor Kuncze, the head of the opposition party Free Democrats, told the daily Blikk.

Hungarians are serious smokers, in third place globally, after Russia and Poland, with 2,565 cigarettes annually per smoker, far above the global average of 924. Forty-four percent of adult men and 27 percent of adult women smoke some 28 billion cigarettes a year.

Over 2.5 million Hungarians, in a country of 10.1 million, smoke and almost 40,000 die each year of causes related to tobacco.

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