Greek smokers in Melbourne upset over outdoor smoking ban

http://www.sbs.com.au
www.sbs.com.au — Greek-Australians east of Melbourne fear a new ban on smoking in outdoor dining areas will damage their cultural heritage.
Brought in this week, the new ban is upsetting the Greek-born customers of Oakleigh’s Eaton Mall.
For hours they sipping  coffee, smoking cigarettes and discussing  life  is  a tradition that dates back decades – but now would appear, in danger.
From the first of August, Victoria rolled out a smoking ban in nearly all outdoor dining areas and Petros Georgaklis isn’t happy.

“I’m smoking 60 years, and (you) can’t say now stop to smoking, it’s not fair,” he told SBS World News.

It’s a remnant of life in Greece, transplanted to Oakleigh with the migrant influx of the mid-20th century.

Manager of Kentro, Giorgio Sfrantzis said his cafe is doing all it can to accommodate its elderly smoking customers.

He said it’s not about the money, as generally they spend very little, but about respecting the traditions of the older generation.

“All they want is a coffee and a cigarette in the morning and (to) speak to their mates, that’s it,” he said.

“That’s their lives. They’ll do it all over again tomorrow. You can’t take half what they live for away from them.”

Fourteen per cent of Oakleigh still speak Greek, and the suburb’s Eaton Mall has become their home away from the homeland.

George Staurinos runs the family cafe Yefsi in the mall.

He said the Greek traditions are what makes Oakleigh so unique.

 “The people who make up Oakleigh, Eaton Mall are the first generation Greek-Australians. In Greece we get up in the morning we go to the cafeneo which is the coffee shop, have a coffee and a smoke, talk politics or whatever else and then go on about our business every day. The same thing has happened here.”

Under the new rules, individuals caught smoking in outdoor dining areas will face fines up to $777, with businesses liable for fines up to $7773.

But Oakleigh local Sofia Agalidis said the new rules are confusing and unfair.

“It’s taking the rights off people again, that’s the way I look at it. If you don’t want people to smoke don’t make the bloody things, simple as that.”

 To comply with the rules, some cafes have stopped outdoor food service for designated smoking hours, while those with the real estate have erected four-metre buffers between smoking and non-smoking areas.

Monash City Council councillor Geoff Lake agrees the laws are confusing, and he’d like to see a blanket ban on smoking in all outdoor dining areas throughout the mall.

“There should not be these loopholes that through a trader saying this is not an eating space anymore, for the next hour this is a drinking space. That’s not on.”

 Theo Mitsou, whose daughter works at a cafe on Eaton Mall, supports the ban.

“I am very happy about it,” he said.

“I think it will attract more families, it will bring families out with children so they can sit and eat in peace. And personally I think it’ll get rid of some of the riff raff.”

But business owners like Mr Staurinos fear the law spells the end for the Greek cultural heritage of Oakleigh.

“Now I heard them (customers) talking that if we cannot have a smoke and a coffee we won’t be coming to Oakleigh.”