Six months after the introduction by Bulgaria of a full ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces such as restaurants and bars, and a few weeks after failed attempts to reverse the law, investigations by two television stations have found widespread breaches of the law.
Many restaurants were continuing to break the ban, television station bTV said on January 3 2013, saying that owners of bars and restaurants preferred to pay fines rather than deprive their customers of the chance to smoke.
Between the time that the ban came into effect, June 1 2012, and the end of December, inspectors across Bulgaria have carried out a total of 128 698 inspections.
Fines close to 190 000 leva (about 95 000 euro) have been imposed.
Most of the violations of the ban were in October, November and December 2012 as the cold weather set in. The city with the highest rate of breaches of the smoking ban was the capital, Sofia.
One place of entertainment already had been fined the maximum, of 10 000 leva, after repeated breaches of the law against smoking in public places, the report said.
In Plovdiv, more than 140 fines for smoking have been issued, and local health officials said breaches of the ban were more likely to be found where people had been drinking and, affected by alcohol consumption, were reckless about defying the law.
Public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television said that on New Year’s Eve, about 40 official complaints were lodged about the smoking ban being broken while the station’s viewers also sent in numerous messages about the ban being violated.
Anti-smoking lobby group Bulgaria Without Smoke said that in dozens of places across the country, people had lit up with the knowledge and permission of the staff.
Bulgarian National Television said that as its team visited nightspots in the capital city, people were undeterred by the presence of a television camera about smoking.
The report said that on New Year’s Eve, in many places staff handed out cups of water to be used as ashtrays. Candlesticks and vases also did duty, the report said.
(Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)