Bulgaria’s smoking ban costing state coffers close to 230M leva, restaurant owners claim

In the face of a flat refusal by Bulgaria’s Prime Minister, Health Minister and the governing party to consider easing up the ban on smoking in restaurants, bars and other enclosed public places that came into effect on June 1, people from the hospitality industry are keeping up their campaign for a rethink – claiming that the ban is costing the state 228 million leva (about 114 million euro) in lost taxation.

Recently, a group of independent MPs said that they would table legislation providing for an easing of the ban, but the result was a torrent of cold water on the idea from Bulgaria’s ruling party and senior government figures.

The strict rules against smoking in enclosed public spaces wonBulgariapraise from European and world health authorities, but has restaurants and bars complaining about lost custom, and they claim that with winter coming, matters will get worse.

More than 40 restaurants acrossBulgariahave united in a movement calling itself “Free Choice” which has written to Prime Minister Boiko Borissov and all Cabinet ministers individually asking for an easing of the ban.

Singer Hilda Kazasyan, who owns several city places of entertainment, said the government demagoguery has turned smokers into criminals, local media reported.

She called for cross-party unity in Parliament to ease the ban.

A news conference on October 8 was told that 85 per cent of patrons ofBulgaria’s restaurants and bars were smokers, and the ban that took effect in June would ultimately worsen job losses.

The money that had been spent by restaurants and bars to comply with the previous version of the law, that required separate ventilated spaces if smoking was allowed, had now been wasted, the group complained.

In the past three months, restaurants and bars had reported decreases of 20 to 50 per monthly turnover, which could in turn lead to mass redundancies, the group said.

They said that most of those working in restaurants and bars were aged 18 to 30, and employment for them should be a priority forBulgariaand the European Union when it came to employment.

They theorized that if any establishment employing nearly 20 people halved the number of their employees, within a few monthsBulgariawould have 30 000 newly-unemployed young people.

Health Minister Desislava Atanasova said on October 5 that there would be no backtracking on the law against smoking in public places. Bulgaria had one of the worst rates of heart disease, a fact directly linked to the high rate of smoking among Bulgarians, she said.




The Sofia Globe staff

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