SOFIA, May 17 – Lawmakers in Bulgaria approved on Thursday last-minute changes to the country’s health bill to ban smoking in stadiums and all enclosed public spaces such as cafes and restaurants as of June 1.
The small Balkan country, home to Europe’s second-heaviest smokers after Greece, had already banned smoking in all government buildings, public transport, trains, cinemas, schools and kindergartens in 2005.
The new changes approved Thursday would extend the ban to all enclosed public spaces including bars, cafes and restaurants. Up to now these establishments were allowed to have separate smoking and non-smoking sections and smaller places could choose to be either.
Smoking was also banned near children’s playgrounds as well as in all school and kindergarten courtyards.
At the same time lawmakers failed to back a smoking ban at bus stops and public gardens.
“Smoking at bus stops and in parks is OK but at stadiums it must be banned…. There you do not have any room for manoeuvre to avoid the smoke,” Prime Minister Boyko Borisov told private bTV in an interview Sunday.
The new changes will take effect on June 1 but they have already caused an uproar among bar owners and smokers, who staged a protest Sunday calling for “a more balanced approach.”
The media has also questioned the health inspectors’ ability to enforce the ban, especially at football games.
“Smoking won’t be rooted out in Bulgaria. We’ll just go underground and have fun breaking the law,” hospital intensive care chief Milan Milanov, an avid smoker, told the Presa newspaper last week.
“If we ban tobacco, let’s also ban aubergines — they contain nicotine too,” left-wing lawmaker Lyuben Kornezov objected in parliament Thursday, adding that 18,000 jobs will be lost due to the new ban.
According to health ministry data, about 44 percent of Bulgaria’s total population of 7.4 million are regular smokers.