Let’s get this straight out on the table – if you’re an avid anti-smoking activist, you might have a rough time in Prague (or anywhere else in the Czech Republic). While Czechs aren’t the world’s most passionate smokers – that would be the Greeks or Bulgarians – the laws regarding smoking in public places are extraordinarily lenient for a nation within the European Union. The modern trend is to ban smoking wherever possible, and it’s true that there are increasing tendencies to follow the rest of the western world, but every attempt so far has been brushed off.
A typical Czech pub is a place where you can have a cheap beer, utopenec (a type of pickled sausage), and a cigarette. It just all comes with the package. Whenever a smoking ban is proposed, there are lots of people who argue that forcing everyone to refrain from smoking while having their beer is against local tradition. Or, more accordingly, that there is effectively no way anyone could make the working class villagers follow the law. If you have a chance to visit a local village pub, you’d see why – people just smoke there, they’ve never known otherwise. Unless you put a policeman in every single pub, they’ll continue to smoke and not give a slightest damn about what the law says.
During past few years, this became a hot topic – Czech Republic really wants to be viewed as a part of the western world, to shake off the Soviet-era flavored feeling people usually get when talking about countries from the former Eastern bloc. The leniency towards smoking and drinking, however, is something that would be completely unacceptable in most western countries. And the people in charge have their hands tied, because frankly, cheap drinking and the overall tendency to accept drunkenness as a normal part of life is what attracts a lot of tourists in the first place. In this kind of environment, it is really hard to forcibly enhance any kind of anti-drug law, smoking included.
But all of the above doesn’t mean that people simply don’t care – au contraire! It seems that it’s just a matter of time until public smoking becomes heavily restricted because society as a whole generally shifts toward the more western view. As of 2014, the laws are still pretty loose, but there are boundaries – smoking is universally banned from all the public buildings (excluding dining and drinking facilities), public transportation, bus and railway stations, and wherever else an international ‘no smoking’ sign is placed.
As for pubs, clubs, bars and restaurants, every single one has to be properly labeled as ‘smoking’ or ‘non-smoking;’ just look for a sign on the front door. If it’s a classic ‘no smoking’ sign that reads ‘KOUŘENÍ ZAKÁZÁNO’, you can’t smoke inside. If it’s a black cigarette in a yellow triangle with ‘KOUŘENÍ POVOLENO’ written on it, you can. The other option is called ‘STAVEBNĚ ODDĚLENÉ PROSTORY PRO KUŘÁKY A NEKUŘÁKY’, which means that the facility has both smoking and non-smoking rooms, separated by a solid wall. Don’t hesitate to ask the staff if you’re not sure.
The ratio between smoking and non-smoking facilities is pretty balanced, but the non-smoking ones are clearly on the rise. Basically, if you want to go to a drinking bar, be prepared that more often than not, smoking will be allowed there. Some pubs reek of cigarette smoke to a point where even the most avid smokers complain about it. Most restaurants, however, have at least one smoking-free room, and there are lots of them that ban smoking completely. This is rapidly becoming a sign of a good, clean, customer-friendly environment, as opposed to the ash-stained, cheap underclass pubs. Even hip new music clubs and concert venues usually ban smoking inside.
So whether you’re a smoker or not, you’ll have plenty of options to enjoy your night out. Another thing is smoking outside – apart from public transport stops, some parks, playgrounds, schoolyards and such, there is literally no restriction. In fact, people frequently drop cigarette butts on sidewalks, which many consider gross (understandably), but it still happens a lot. Same rules apply for nearly every ‘zahrádka’ (a beer garden), and non-smoking pubs often open those during summers to attract smoking clientele.
Recently, the older generation of Czech smokers had a reason to mourn – ‘Start,’the last surviving cigarette brand from the Communist era, was bought by Chesterfield and relabeled as ‘Start by Chesterfield’. Those ‘Startky’ were a common symbol of the Czech working class, students and punkers. There’s even a song about the cigarettes by a famous punk band called ‘Visací zámek.’ Maybe that’s a good sign of how smoking is slowly vanishing from the common public life. The next step is probably going to be an increase in prices – today, cigarettes are extremely cheap. You can buy a pack for mere 3-4 Euros.