By Clive Leviev – Sawyer of The Sofia Globe
A group of Bulgarian Socialist Party MPs have tabled legislation that would withdraw the full ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces such as restaurants and bars and replace it with a system like the one that was in effect before June 2012, allowing separate smoking areas.
The draft bill to amend the Health Act, tabled in the National Assembly on October 16, will be discussed by Parliament’s health committee next week, committee chairperson Nigyat Jaffer said on October 17.
The bill provides for owners of premises of less than 70 sq m to decide whether the place of entertainment would be smoking or non-smoking.
Premises larger than that would be able to have separate smoking areas, with separate ventilation, a provision similar to that in effect before the full ban came into effect in June 2012.
Smoking areas would be closed to people younger than 18. The bill also returns the provision for smoking areas to be designated by signs.
The bill provides that there could be separate smoking areas in restaurants, bars, cafes, coffee shops but not internet cafes, gambling halls and casinos and airports. It retains the full ban on smoking in workplaces, places of accommodation, schools, kindergartens, cinemas, theatres, concert halls, community centres and libraries.
Owners of establishments where there is smoking in breach of the law would be fined 5000 leva (about 2500 euro) for a first offence. Second offences would mean a fine of 15 000 leva, increased from the current 10 000 leva. For individual smokers, breaching the law would mean a fine of 400 to 800 leva.
An explanatory memorandum attached to the bill said that “it is undisputed that the efforts of the state to protect public health should be supporter and encouraged” but there should be a “balanced approach” in regulating smoking in public places.
The memorandum quoted claims by the Bulgarian Hotel and Restaurant Association about financial losses because of the June 2012 full smoking ban.
Owners of establishments where smoking would be allowed would have to notify the regional health inspectorate which, within one month, would have to inspect the place for compliance with the law.
The proceeds from fines should go to finance the national programme against smoking in Bulgaria. The Cabinet would produce regulations on, among other matters, the technical specifications and requirements for ventilation and how to identify places where smoking is allowed.
Bulgarian Socialist Party MP Spas Pantchev, one of those who tabled the bill, said the sponsors of the legislation wanted Parliament to decide “whether it is time for this change or whether Bulgaria will remain the country with the strictest laws on smoking”.
Pantchev said that he expected that the amendments would be approved by Parliament before the New Year.
He said that the BSP would not tell its MPs which way to vote on the amendments. “I am sure that there will be colleagues who are against, but I know that the majority of our parliamentary group supports the proposed changes to the law.”
Former health minister Desislava Atanassova, in office when centre-right party GERB brought the full ban on smoking in public places into force, said that once again, profit-making had been put over the health of Bulgarian citizens.
GERB would vote against the proposed amendments, said Atanassova, who described the full ban as a “truly European measure”.
The Movement for Rights and Freedoms, the partner in power of the BSP, reiterated that its members would be given a free vote on the amendments.
Like the BSP, ultra-nationalist party Ataka included among its election promises ahead of the May 2013 vote that it wanted the full ban on smoking in public places scrapped.