Norway has imposed a nationwide ban on smoking in restaurants and bars.

‘s Parliament voted earlier this month to outlaw smoking anywhere people eat and drink. While some states and cities in the United States have passed similar laws, Norway is the first country in the world to impose such a ban nationwide, Reuters reported.

The ban has been delayed until spring 2004, to spare smokers one last year from having to step outside to light up during Norway’s harsh winters.

“We haven’t set a specific date, but it will be sometime during next spring,” a spokesman for Norway’s health ministry told Reuters. “The minister wanted to wait until spring when it is a bit warmer, to make it easier for smokers.”

The bill’s stated purpose is to protect employees and customers at bars and restaurants against passive or second-hand smoke, which the health ministry says kills 350 to 550 Norwegian nonsmokers each year.

Norway already banned smoking in public places like railway stations or offices with more than one employee.

England and Ireland are also poised to pass restrictive laws on smoking.

A bill to ban smoking in all pubs, restaurants, bars, cafes and the like is set to appear before British Parliament this week, BBC News reported.

“[Restaurants] need to take action now if they’re not to lose customers fed up with breathing in toxic fumes from other people’s cigarettes,” Judith Watt of SmokeFree London told BBC News. “Going smoke-free will almost certainly increase their trade.”

A recent survey showed that 53 percent of British citizens, including smokers, wanted to eat in a totally smoke-free environment. Just 4 percent of respondents opposed any restrictions on smoking in restaurants.

Smoking bans are not new to the United States. California became the first state to impose a statewide ban on smoking in public spaces in 1994. Now Maine, Vermont and Utah enacted similar laws shortly after.

New York City followed suit in December 2002 with a citywide ban on smoking in public venues like bowling alleys, pool halls, bingo parlors, bars and restaurants.

Jodi Mathews is BCE’s communications director.

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