Havel's Lung Cancer Fails To Deter Czech Smokers

PRAGUE -- Czech President Vaclav Havel, the only man whom militant Hollywood anti-smoker Barbra Streisand will allow to smoke next to her, must face a life without his beloved cigarettes after surgery revealed a cancerous lung.

Havel's chain-smoking, a permanent feature of his Bohemian intellectual image, is widely believed to have contributed to the malignant tumor which surgeons removed on Monday.

It certainly startled some Czechs who awoke on Tuesday to a huge headline in the tabloid Blesk that screamed "CANCER" next to an archive picture of a happily-smoking Havel.

But just as Boris Yeltsin's multiple by-pass heart surgery will hardly dry up a Muscovite's taste for vodka, which many blamed for the Russian president's ills, Havel's surgery probably will not cause chain-smoking Czechs to kick the habit.

"Ooh, I should quit," said Hana Haskova, a 19-year-old student reacting to news of Havel's cancer. "Well, I probably won't, but I'll be forced to think about it when I smoke."

Doctors said the surgery, which cost the 60-year-old Havel half of his right lung, gave him good prospects for a full recovery, and he might return to work soon after the new year.

Czech surgeon Dr. Pavel Pafko said after performing the operation that it would be difficult to pinpoint smoking as the primary cause of Havel's cancer.

"The composition of this tumor is problematic in relation to smoking. You can't definitely tell," Pafko told reporters.

But to many Czechs, the cause was clear: "It has to be the smoking," was the oft-repeated phrase of workers in central Prague, many of them smokers.

"Stopping now won't help anyway. I was smoking before you were born," said Karel, 43, a maintenance man puffing away over beer in one of the hundreds of smoke-fogged bars in Prague.

Pavko said Havel smoked one last pre-surgery cigarette with Jan Strasky, a chain smoker who happens also to be health minister.