Bulgarian health officials carried out more than 600 inspections on the first day that Bulgaria’s expanded law against smoking in public places came into effect, but imposed only six fines, which authorities said was a sign of a disciplined response to the tough new law.
From June 1 2012, smoking is banned in all enclosed public spaces, at the workplace and at several outdoor public places – pavements next to nurseries, kindergartens, schools, student dormitories and places providing social services for children, playgrounds, in places where organised activities for children are held, sports facilities, summer theatres, cinemas and at sports events.
Smoking is still permitted at home, in the car, in the street if not next to a kindergarten or school, at open areas of restaurants and places of entertainment, at separate enclosed smoking rooms at airports, on the outside terraces of offices, hotels, restaurants and on the beach.
However, separate internal smoking areas at work places, hotels and restaurants are no longer legal. Smoking at private parties in public places such as restaurants also is illegal, as is smoking at private clubs.
There are 650 inspectors countrywide, and a large group of them fanned out in Sofia and other major cities on June 1, checking hospitals, kindergarten and school grounds, restaurants, swimming pools, hairdressers, shops, post offices, branches of the National Revenue Agency, banks, municipal offices, libraries and seniors’ clubs.
According to Health Minister Desislava Atanasova, the breaches of the law that were found included smoking in the courtyards of several schools, in restaurants and places of entertainment and smoking at the outpatient section of a hospital.
Managers of restaurants and places of entertainment were penalised for still displaying “smoking area” signs and having ashtrays on tables.
According to Bulgarian National Television, hoteliers and restaurateurs said that they were unclear about the legal definition of enclosed and open public spaces and how to determine whether and where, for example, smoking in a restaurant’s summer garden could be legal.
Atanasova urged the media and civil society to back the ban, not just because it was law but also to help people be more responsible towards their own health.
Authorities have pledged that the inspections on the first day of the ban would not be a one-off and would continue, including a focus on check-ups at offices and other workplaces.