Bulgarian government announced last week it begins enforcement of a nationwide smoking ban in all public venues, among which are restaurants and bars, while its heavy smoking population was left fuming over the new measure.
The Balkan country, famous for its summer tourist destinations is home to the second highest smoking rates across European Union, behind Greece. The stats provided by Bulgarian Health Ministry demonstrate that 44 percent of Bulgarian population (7.4 million people in total) is smoking on regular basis.
From June 1st, all of the can be fined $150-300 for lighting up in cafes, bars, workplaces, restaurants, stadiums, playgrounds and school yards.
Up to this year all restaurants and cafes were permitted to designate smoking zones, physically separated from non-smoking ones, while smaller venues could decide to be either.
“Anyone caught on smoking in a restaurant from June 1st is an intruder,” Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boyko Borisov admitted on the eve of the ban’s coming into effect.
Smokers thought that the prohibition is rather hypocritical.
“There is no well-enforced ban concerning tobacco products in the country. It is against the law to sell tobacco products to adolescents, however that are frequently seen smoking near schools,” opposition official Assen Agov states.
“That is simply disgusting! I feel my personal rights are discriminated,” Angelina Medieva said while smoking outside her tobacco and coffee shop in the center of Sofia.
“I am the only employee here, I don’t bother anyone, so why should pay these huge fines for smoking in my venue,” she complained.
“If cigarettes are still a legal product, smoking them should as well be a legal practice. Everyone was okay with the way how it was before this ban came, as we were able to light up in certain places,” added her friend, Elena Atanasova.
Over 600 health inspectors were appointed to track how the ban is enforced across the country, and within 24 hours from the implementation of the ban, first fines were imposed, according to BNR radio.
The owners of bars and restaurants, who allow smoking in their premises, violating the new regulations, could be fined between $500-1500.
“That is simply stupid! I am bar owner, but not a police inspector. How can I make people stop smoking if they want to?” Atanas Dimitrov, Head of Association of Restaurant Owners told BNT radio correspondent.
Other smokers have already become used to the idea of smoking outside.
“I don’t mind smoking outside. I love breathing fresh air while smoking,” Gabriela Stanova said as she enjoyed her cigarette outside of a café in Sofia.
Members of Parliament, who also closed the smoking room in the Parliament House, joked they would introduce a proposal to change the name of parliamentary building to “airport” so that they could keep puffing in their smoking room.