Bulgaria - final vote delayed on weakened smoking ban..

May 21, 2010 - Bulgaria's parliament delayed on Thursday, May 20th its conclusive [final] vote on the ruling-party proposal to water down a new smoking ban in the country after a ridiculous gaffe.

Following an apparent misunderstanding of the texts put to vote, the MPs (members of parliament) allowed youngsters under 18 to enter disco and night clubs, but barred their access to restaurants and coffee shops, whose owners allow smoking. The gaffe forced MPs from the center-right majority to suspend the vote and convene a meeting of the health commission to solve the issue.

A day earlier the MPs passed at second reading the more liberal rules for smoking in public spaces and abolished for good the full smoking ban.

Under the proposed changes smoking will be allowed in separate smoking spaces inside restaurants, bars, coffee shops, railroad stations, airports, ports, and bus stations. The owners of restaurants, clubs and coffee shops with an area less than 50 square meters, should decide if smoking would be allowed. Similar measures were imposed as part of a partial smoking ban in 2005 but have been widely ignored.

The smoking ban was voted by the previous parliament and was supposed to become effective on June 1, but the current MPs approved the amendments to the Health Care Act, proposed by the ruling Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) party.

The draft legislation has surprisingly managed to fuse the ruling center-right GERB with the main opposition Socialist Party. The ad hoc coalition claims that the proposed relaxation of a ban on smoking in all public places would avoid hurting the tourist industry during tough economic times. Tourism accounts for 8% of GDP in the Balkan country of 7.6 million people, the EU's poorest state.

Bulgaria ranks second after Greece in the European Union (EU) in terms of number of regular smokers as a percentage of the population, according to a Eurobarometer survey. Almost every third person between 10 and 19 years of age is a regular smoker, data from the health ministry show.

Last year, the Croatian government was forced to ease a smoking ban after only four months because café owners complained it was crippling business.

The European Parliament has consistently pushed for a total ban on smoking in the workplace, while the European Commission has indicated that it wants to harmonise minimum taxes on tobacco products in a bid to cut down on smuggling . Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Avril Doyle has called for legislation to make it illegal to sell cigarettes and cigars within the European Union by 2025.

References: Bulgaria Vote on Smoking Ban at Dead End, Novinite.com, 5/20/2010; Bulgaria waters down public smoking ban, EurActiv with Reuters, EuraActiv.com, 5/21/2010.

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