Bulgaria’s National Assembly voted on July 11 to reject a proposed ban on the smoking of hookahs in indoor public places, while it voted a ban on the sale to and use of hookahs and e-cigarettes to people younger than 18.
The second reading of amendments to Bulgaria’s Health Act that would have imposed a ban on the smoking of hookahs in indoor public places was rejected by 112 votes against, 16 for and with one abstention.
This was a reverse of the first-reading vote, when the ban was approved unanimously.
The head of the National Assembly’s health committee and parliamentary leader of Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s GERB party, Dr Daniela Daritkova, said that the ban on smoking hookahs indoors in public places should be rejected because of a procedural requirement under EU rules that should be observed before such a law was approved.
“A procedure relating to any restrictive measures for tobacco and related articles requires, under the EU Treaty and all other rules, a notification procedure under the Tobacco Directive, and Members of Parliament have no right to a notification procedure,” Daritkova said. Such a procedure would have to come from the government, after a public consultation, she said.
Failure to follow the required procedure could result in the European Commission initiating an infringement procedure against Bulgaria, Daritkova said.
Valeri Simeonov, a co-leader of the United Patriots, the minority partner in government, expressed sharp disappointment with the refusal to vote the ban, alleging that lobbyist interests had intervened to block it.
Bulgaria legislated a full ban on smoking in enclosed public places in June 2012.
In the July 11 2019 vote, MPs expanded the penalties for breaching the act, by legislating a fine of 300 to 500 leva (about 150 to 250 euro) for anyone allowing smoking in a facility managed by them.
The fine will be 1000 to 1500 leva in the case of a sole trader and 3000 to 5000 leva in the case of a juristic person. The fine for an individual caught smoking in an enclosed public place remains unchanged.
Daritkova said that targeting owners of establishments would improve compliance with the law.