Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov has hinted that he will not oppose a backtrack being considered by his ruling party MPs that would see the indoor smoking ban eased to allow people to light up in restaurants and bars after 10pm, but Health Minister Desislava Atanasova has pledged to stand firm against the anti-smoking law being amended.
Bulgaria’s law against smoking in enclosed public spaces came into effect at the beginning of June 2012. The full ban overtook an earlier version that allowed restaurants and bars to set aside smoking spaces with separate ventilation.
With the advent of winter, campaigning in Bulgaria against the full ban has been stepped up and restaurants, bars and nightclubs have been increasingly strident in insisting that the full smoking ban is harming earnings and jobs.
A small group of independent MPs was the first to say that they would table in Parliament a bill to revert to the earlier version of the law, as restaurant and pub associations have asked, a proposal that at first met with firm rejection by Bulgaria’s centre-right ruling party GERB.
However, it has emerged that Parliament’s health committee, at a meeting on December 13, will consider amendments that would allow smoking in enclosed public places after 10pm.
Dr Daniela Daritkova, head of the committee, confirmed on December 7 that a discussion on the proposed amendments would take place.
However, she said that there was no serious evidence that businesses had been seriously hit in the first three months of the full ban being in effect. When it came to balancing the interests of business and of public health, it was health that should take precedence, she was quoted as saying.
Bulgarian-language media reports in Sofia and in Bulgaria’s second city, Plovdiv, said that there were widespread violations of the ban at places of entertainment at night.
On December 10, mass-circulation daily 24 Chassa said that places continued to allow violations of the ban in spite of having been fined. The daily said that customers ordered “Greek ashtrays”, an ice cube wrapped in a napkin on a plate, that allowed smokers to quickly extinguish their cigarettes in the event of an inspection. The report quoted health inspectors as saying that they could act only if they directly saw someone with a burning cigarette in violation of the law.
The independent MPs have not been the only ones to give the issue a political dimension.
Sergei Stanishev, leader of the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party, said in the past few days that there should be a rethink of the smoking ban. The socialists, who were defeated in July 2009 by GERB, are seeking a return to power in the parliamentary elections in mid-2013.
This past weekend, Prime Minister Borissov softened his earlier statements about the indoor smoking ban, saying that after 10pm, working people and families were at home. He hinted that he was in favour of easing back on the ban but said that he wanted to leave it up to legislators to decide.
Health Minister Atanasova, speaking to public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television on December 10, stood firm in resisting any easing of the ban.
She said that there was ample medical research evidence that cigarettes caused a number of serious diseases and said that she would not back down on the ban.
(Photo: Romana Ferrer/sxc.hu)