Norway’s bars brace for outdoor smoking ban

Norwegian lawmakers are ready to ban smoking in outdoor cafes and restaurants and put cigarettes out of reach for teachers and government workers.

Norway's bars brace for outdoor smoking ban
Photo: Silvia Viñuales

A tightening of smoking laws is expected to meet resistance, just as a 2003 law banning smoking in bars and restaurants provoked protest actions by restaurateurs. Bar owners countered by opening sidewalk cafes and erecting tents in enclosed courtyards.

An alternate bill being aired aims to set safety standards for the often ad-hoc enclosures built around the seats sheltering under canopies and tents.

Asked about the proposed ban, Olaf Loly, owner of the The Dubliner pub in Oslo, told The Local the last time a ban was introduced, the government said it was to protect the staff.

“Now it seems it’s being pushed to make it so uncomfortable for smokers that they will quit, but I think people should have their freedom to smoke as long they don’t harm anyone,” Loly said.

Norway’s Labour party is behind the bill which could be voted into law quickly later this autumn, although the party’s Jonas Gahr Støre abandoned a bill aimed at shortening liquor sales hours after public hearings last year sparked outrage. Støre, according to newspaper Dagsavisen, is under fire this time for being criticized by the World Health Organization — where he served as chief of staff to director Gro Harlem Brundtland in the 90s — for not cracking down on cigarette sales under an international Tobacco Convention.

A newly hatched Health and Care Ministry said the aim of the new law is no longer merely “limiting damage to health” but “a tobacco-free society” where children “have the right to a smoke-free environment”. Under that logic, the ministry is said to be considering a ban on smoking for teachers.

Loly has invested heavily in hanging canvas over a courtyard he has heavily renovated. He earns about 25 percent of his sales from the tented outdoor area.

Yet, while the popularity of The Dubliner keeps sales strong, other establishments would surely face closures.

“It will hurt business a little bit. When (the courtyard) goes, turnover will obviously go down. It’s a key part of your selling area,” Loly said.

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Why are more people waiting to be given a GP in Norway?

As many as 116,000 people are waiting to be given a "fastlege", or GP, in Norway. So, why are residents having to wait to be assigned a doctor?

More than 116,000 people are waiting to be given a GP in Norway. Pictured is a picture of a stethoscope and some paperwork.
More than 116,000 people are waiting to be given a GP in Norway. Pictured is a picture of a stethoscope and some paperwork. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.

A recent quarterly report from the Norwegian Directorate of Health has revealed that 116,000 people in Norway are on the waiting list to be given a GP

Furthermore, the number of those without a doctor has grown in recent years, with those in rural and northern parts of the country more likely to be left waiting for a GP. 

The current GP scheme in Norway allows everyone to choose their own doctor, who acts as the patients’ main point of contact with the health service. Your GP is also responsible for your primary medical needs, and you are allowed to change your doctor twice a year. 

READ ALSO: How Norway’s health insurance scheme works and the common problems foreigners face

Doctors in Norway have warned that a lack of funding and staff is threatening the GP system. 

“The GP scheme is on the verge of collapsing because there are too few doctors,” Bernand Holthe, a GP on the board of the Nordland Medical Association and a member of GP’s association for the area, told public broadcaster NRK

He says that reform in 2012 to the GP system has left doctors with too much work with not enough resources at their disposal. 

“After the collaboration reform in 2012, the GP scheme has been given too many tasks without receiving a corresponding amount of resources,” Holthe said. 

The government has pledged around 450 million in funding for GPs in its state budget for 2022, which Holthe argues isn’t enough to recruit the number of GPs necessary. 

Nils Kristian Klev and Marte Kvittum Tangen who represent the country’s 5,000 or so GPs also said they were disappointed with the level of funding allocated for doctors in the national budget. 

“The Labor Party was clear before the election that they would increase the basic funding in the GP scheme. This is by far the most important measure to ensure stability and recruitment and it is urgent,” the pair told Norwegian newswire NTB.

Patients have been left frustrated, and in a recent survey on healthcare in the country, one reader of The Local expressed their frustration at not having a GP. 

“I moved from Olso to Tromso, and I’m currently without a GP. Helsenorge didn’t think this was an issue and told me to visit a hospital if I needed to see a doctor. How can a municipality have no places for a doctor? Everyone has a right to a local doctor, and I’ve been left with nothing. All I can do is join a waiting list in the hopes a place turns up before I get ill,” Sinead from Tromsø said in the survey. 

Another reader described the fastlege system as “horrible”. 

Key vocabulary

Fastlege– GP 

Legevakt– Emergency room

Sykehus– Hospital 

Helseforsikring– Health insurance

Legekontor- Doctors office