Bulgarian Health Minister reiterates opposition to easing smoking ban

The health minister in the Bulgarian Socialist Party government, Tanya Andreeva, has reiterated her opposition to easing the ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces – in spite of moves by the party’s parliamentary caucus to vote a backtrack before winter takes hold.

Backtracking on the ban on smoking in enclosed public places such as restaurants and bars that came into effect under the previous government in June 2012 was part of the election platform of the Bulgarian Socialist Party ahead of the May 2013 parliamentary elections.

Initial reports after the BSP came to power in May that the new health minister was prepared to consider such a backtrack or to leave it entirely to Parliament to decide were vehemently rejected at the time as inaccurate by Andreeva.

Speaking on October 7, after reports that BSP MPs wanted a backtrack in place this winter, Andreeva said that it was “absolutely normal and correct” for the ban on smoking in public places to remain in place in Bulgaria.

“For the first time, both society and the smokers adopted a common and tolerant approach towards this issue. I do not think that there should be any kind of concessions in this regard,” she said.

“People’s health has no price to allow compromises,” Andreeva said.

Also reiterating her opposition to a backtrack was Dessislava Atanasova, health minister in 2012 when the ban came into effect.

She said that the most recent polls had shown Bulgarian public support for the ban.

“According to latest opinion polls, more than 60 per cent of Bulgarian citizens back the smoking ban, and these are both smokers and non-smokers,” Atanasova said, quoted by local news agency Focus.

On October 5, Bulgarian-language mass-circulation daily Trud said that a poll of its readers had found that nearly two in three believe that the total ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces must not be lifted because health is all-important and because the idea was the result of lobbying.

Atanasova said that the on the one hand, the smoking ban decreased a harmful habit while on the other, it protected both children and the staff of entertainment and catering establishments.

“It also provides a much better living environment,” she said.

BSP MPs are to yet to discuss a final form of amendments on a backtrack. Unconfirmed reports said that they would discuss the amendments on October 8. Options being discussed are reported to include restoring the system of separate smoking and non-smoking areas, or allowing smoking after 10pm. The ban on smoking in the workplace would remain unchanged.

Reports this past weekend said that BSP MPs would be given a free vote on the issue.

Volen Siderov’s ultra-nationalists Ataka already have tabled draft legislation in Parliament to scrap the ban in favour of a system that would allow smoking in bars with a floor area of more than 70 sq m, while bars with a smaller floor area would have the discretion to decide their policy on permitting smoking.

Former ruling party GERB has underlined that it will oppose in Parliament any moves to ease the full ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces.

(Archive photo of a late 2012 protest against backtracking on the smoking ban: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)




The Sofia Globe staff

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