By Clive Leviev – Sawyer of The Sofia Globe
Bulgarian President Rossen Plevneliev has pledged that if Parliament approves a backtrack on the ban on smoking in enclosed public places such as restaurants and bars, he will veto the legislation.
Plevneliev made a similar pledge in late 2012 when there were attempts to backtrack on the ban, which came into effect in June 2012.
Under the previous government, attempts at amendments – which would have seen a return to separate smoking and non-smoking areas indoors in places of entertainment – failed.
The Bulgarian Socialist Party, which came to power after the May 2013 elections even though it ran second, had a backtrack on the smoking ban among its election pledges. The ban also is vehemently opposed by Ataka, Volen Siderov’s ultra-nationalist party on which the current government is dependent. Ataka already has tabled amendments to reverse the full smoking ban.
Speaking on October 8, Plevneliev said, “I categorically declare that I will oppose any attempt to reinstate the previous arrangements”.
He said that the current system had been introduced in many European countries and was the correct route to take.
Plevneliev said that to him, the nation’s health was of primary importance.
The same day, representatives of the lobby group Bulgaria Without Smoke picketed the central Sofia headquarters of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, vowing to remain there when BSP members arrived for an evening gathering at which amendments to the law against smoking in enclosed public places were to be discussed.
Media reports said that representatives of restaurateurs who wanted a reversion to the system of separate smoking and non-smoking areas were at BSP headquarters for discussions on the amendments.
Support for a backtrack in not universal in the BSP. The BSP’s ally, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, has spoken of giving its MPs a “free vote” – to decide according to their consciences – on the issue. For the MRF, tobacco is an important industry, given the significant electorate that the party has among tobacco workers in Bulgaria.
Tanya Andreeva, health minister in the current government, has like her predecessor opposed the idea of repealing the full ban on indoor smoking at restaurants and bars.
Two economists, Vladimir Karolev and Georgi Ganev, interviewed on local television on October 8, said that behind the plans for the amendments were not so much the interests of the restaurant industry as those of the tobacco companies.