Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov says that he firmly supports the June 2012 law fully banning smoking in enclosed public spaces such as restaurants and bars and has acknowledged that opinion among MPs for his ruling party are divided on the issue.
Borissov’s strong signal against lifting the ban comes a few days after he hinted that he was leaving the matter up to MPs and a day before Parliament’s health committee considers proposed legislation tabled by two independent MPs that would bring back the previous system of separate ventilated areas for smokers.
Speaking of his meeting on December 11 with representatives of the hotel and restaurant industry, who sought his support for a backtrack on the ban on the grounds that they are losing money because of it, Borissov told journalists: “Of course, they have many arguments. They explained to me how when there is a wedding celebration, the bride has to go outside to smoke, and what if it is a private party…”.
He said that there were those in the ruling party who supported an easing back of the ban, for example through bringing back separate smoking areas or allowing smoking when the event is a private one, but said that his refusal to dilute the ban was final.
Borissov’s strong public stance against changing the law is likely to prove a clear signal to his MPs who may have felt that Health Minister Desislava Atanasova was alone in her firm stance against a change.
Meanwhile, a poll by the National Centre for the Study of Public Opinion, released on December 12, said that 16 per cent of Bulgarian smokers said that they had stopped going to restaurants, taverns, bars and other places of entertainment after the June 2012 ban on smoking in enclosed public places came into effect.
The survey is the first that could provide backing for the repeated claims by many in the restaurant and bar business that their turnovers have been hard hit by the ban – a claim to which the anti-smoking lobby has responded by saying that the actual cause is the shrinking of Bulgarians’ spending power because of the enduring impacts of the financial crisis.
The survey, done among 1000 adult Bulgarians in 86 cities and towns, said that 42 per cent of adult Bulgarians were smokers. Of those polled, 46 per cent said that they had never smokers and 12 per cent said that they were former smokers.
Sixty-nine per cent of smokers polled said that they were smoking just as much as before the ban came into effect. Twenty-eight per cent said that they had cut down because of the ban.
When at a restaurant or bar, half stepped out at some point to smoke while a separate 15 per cent did not smoke during their visit.
Most of those who had stopped going to bars because of the smoking ban were residents of capital city Sofia, people with higher education and people who were middle-aged, the pollsters said.
Eleven per cent said that they visited places of entertainment where smoking was allowed in spite of the legal ban. Most often, those who gave this response were young people in large cities, according to the poll.
(Photo: Council of the EU)