Last gasp for beer fest? Munich votes on smoking ban

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The world-famous Oktoberfest beer festival in Munich looked set to be smoke-free in future after initial results from a referendum showed support for a total smoking ban in the southern German state.

With ballots counted in 23 of Bavaria's 96 districts, the anti-smoking camp had 60.3 percent of the vote against 39.7 who wanted to keep it legal to puff away. A simple majority needed for victory.

If final results show that the majority of the 9.4 million eligible voters want tougher new rules, smoking will be banned in all pubs, restaurants and beer tents, without exception.

If the proposed rule change is rejected, the existing laws will remain in force, under which smokers are allowed to light up in beer tents and pubs with special smoking rooms.

The referendum has sparked a furious debate, with those in favour of a total ban arguing on emotive health grounds and those against putting forward arguments about freedom of choice.

Those in favour of stamping out smoking hope a ban in Bavaria will lead to stricter rules across the country where various loopholes in smoking legislation have led to existing rules being only weakly enforced.

Smokers heading for this year's 200th anniversary of the beer-guzzling Oktoberfest should not necessarily leave their cigarettes at home, however.

According to local media, authorities have already announced any potential ban would not be in force for this year's festival, which last year attracted 5.7 million visitors from all around the world.

© 2010 AFP

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