The Bulgarian Parliament’s health committee, in an 11 to zero vote on December 13 2012, rejected amendments proposing an easing of the ban on smoking in enclosed public places such as restaurants and bars.
The amendments had been proposed by two independent MPs who wanted the country to revert to the system used before June 1 2012, of separate non-smoking and smoking areas in places of entertainment.
Appearing before the committee, Blagoy Ragin, head of the Bulgarian Hotel and Restaurant Association, said that turnover at hotels and restaurants was down 80 to 90 per cent because of the smoking ban. He said that 60 000 Bulgarians had booked New Year holidays in neighbouring Serbia which has no such ban.
In recent days, Prime Minister Boiko Borissov, Health Minister Desislava Atanasova and the head of Parliament’s health committee all have spoken out strongly on easing the ban. Atanasova has reiterated that the paramount consideration must be public health, especially given Bulgaria’s extremely high rate of cancer and cardiovascular diseases.
Moves to backtrack on the ban have seen protests by rival camps outside Parliament. Those who wanted the ban eased turned out some weeks ago, displaying empty chairs and tables outside the National Assembly to symbolise the business that they said had been lost because of the ban.
On December 13, as the health committee was due to start its meeting, the organisation Bulgaria without Smoke rallied its supporters for a protest in which they walked backwards to signal their opposition to a reversal of the ban.
Separately, meanwhile, the economy committee has been presented with a proposal by a ruling party MP to allow an easing of the ban in the hotel industry.