Smoke of Indecision in Bulgaria’s Parliament

On July 11, 2019 members of the Bulgarian parliament banned the selling of any type of tobacco products to children. The National Assembly, however, rejected the proposed Ban on smoking water pipes indoors, while more decisive proposals to improve the country’s existing smoking ban were withdrawn earlier.

Changes in the Transitional and Final Provisions of the  Health Act enact a ban on the sale and supply to children of: electronic cigarettes; refill containers; liquids containing nicotine; smoking articles other than tobacco; and water pipe products, not containing tobacco.

Earlier in the procedure proposals for decisive legal changes which smoking opponents believe could have significantly improved control and enforcement of the Total Smoking Ban in public places were withdrawn by their proponent – chair of the parliamentary group of the ruling party GERB – Dr. Daniela Daritkova, before they were considered by the Parliament’s Health Committee. Daritkova is also the Committee’s chair.

What did Bulgarian MPs eventually vote

However, today’s decision of the parliament is a step in the right direction, the activists admit. In the text of Art. 53, in which the Minister of Health and other competent state authorities together with non-governmental organizations create conditions for limiting smoking, the word “smoking” is replaced by “the use of tobacco and related articles”.

Replacing the word “smoking” with “use” makes it so the heated tobacco products to be included in the listed tobacco products. Thus, promotion and prevention activities and national programs should cover all tobacco products.

In such a spirit are the adopted changes in Art. 120, para. 1, item 6, which lists the activities carried out in kindergartens, schools and specialized institutions providing social services for children such as organizing and conducting health education programs for children and pupils to have special programs to prevent the use of tobacco and related articles.

The changes in Art. 122, para. 1, item 6, where, within the approved curricula, students are provided with training on health risks in the use of tobacco and related articles.

All this is good news because “related” products are electronic cigarettes, refill containers, liquids containing nicotine, smoking products other than tobacco and non-tobacco water pipes, said Dr. Gavrailova.

The most significant step forward is the accepted proposal of Daritkova and a group of MPs for a change in Art. 218, para. 2 and 3, introducing a sanction for smoking admission. According to the formulation adopted today, “whoever admits an offense under Art. 56 and 56a in a hospitality venue* he/she manages, shall be fined. ” So far, there was no such text, and the drafting of acts of persons who currently run a smoke-free object were abrogated very often by the court, Dr. Gavrailova explains.

Additionally, in the Additional Provisions, paragraphs 43 and 44 shall be inserted introducing the definitions of tobacco and tobacco products and related products which are borrowed from the definitions in the Act on Tobacco and on Tobacco and Related Products.

Through the Final Provisions of the Health Law, amendments are made to the Child Protection Act as:

  • in Art. 5b, para. 3, concerning the ban on the supply and sale of tobacco products to children, the word “tobacco” is replaced by “tobacco and related”; tobacco and electronic cigarettes, reusable containers, nicotine-containing fluids, smoking products other than tobacco and non-tobacco products for water pipes may not be offered and sold to children;
  • through Art. 45, para. 1, which defines the sanction for vendors who sells tobacco products to children, extends the scope to include tobacco-related products;
  • §1 of the Additional Provisions establishes points 19 and 20 introducing the definitions of tobacco and tobacco related products by reference to the additional provisions of the Act on Tobacco and on Tobacco and Related Products.

Today’s vote was the second on a bill submitted by Valery Simeonov and a group of MPs as early as February 1st  and adopted in the first reading on March 13, 2019. The main purpose of the initiative was the tobacco-free water pipes, more commonly known as hookahs, to be included in the Total Smoking Ban in public places. According to Simeonov, hookah smoking has become a “dangerous fashion”, and no one can guarantee the contents of smoking mixtures.

According to Daritkova, a procedure relating to any restrictive measures for tobacco and related articles requires, under the EU Treaty and all other rules, a notification procedure under the Tobacco Directive. So, the bill was not notified because MPs did not have the right to a notification procedure, Daritkova said, quoted by Dnevnik.

A representative of a pan-European non-governmental anti-smoking network identified that smoking-free regulations do not fall under the notification requirements. According to the director of Brussels-based Smoke Free Partnership, Anka Friedlander, many EU member states have introduced bans on smoking, electronic cigarettes, hookahs and heated tobacco products without any notification. The organization assumes that the refusal of the Bulgarian parliament to adopt the measures may be under the pressure of the tobacco industry.

Another retreat from the tobacco

Representatives of the civil movement have identified the changes adopted today as another demonstration of political indecision for effective smoking cessation. The reason for disappointment is the withdrawal of all the more decisive measures to improve tobacco control when they were examined by the Parliamentary Health Commission on 20.06.2019.

The proposed changes were submitted by Dr. Daritkova and a group of MPs and included the creation of a new Article 232 that would regulate the extension of control over compliance with the total smoking ban. They provided for the inclusion of more control bodies, including labor inspectorates, regional food safety directorates, police authorities of the Ministry of Interior and officials designated by mayors of municipalities. From the report of the commission meeting it becomes clear that the proposal was withdrawn “because of the negative statements of the institutions”.

This text would have allowed control over the compliance with the smoking ban to be more effective and violations to be minimized, explains Dr Masha Gavrailova, chairman of Smoke Free Bulgaria Association. Members of the association have identified the withdrawal of proposals as an abdication from the responsibility of importers to the interests and health of Bulgarian citizens. “In a parliamentary republic, what Bulgaria claims to be, neither the institutions nor the leaders of the executive power have the right to force a MP to abandon a legislative initiative – this is in direct contradiction to the Constitutional Order,” said social researcher Pavel Antonov , co-founder of the Smoke Free Bulgaria Initiative from 2010. According to Antonov, this has once again demonstrated the subjugation of democratic institutions from the behind-the-scenes interests of the tobacco industry.

The increasing disappointment of the opponents of smoking is due also to the passive for years Ministry of Health, whose own draft bill for banning hookah has not been submitted to the Council of Ministers after the public consultation. Thus, proposals co-ordinated by patient, medical and civic organizations through Smoke-Free Life Coalition, for improvements of the laws and filling the gaps in them, remain unanswered and are being avoided again by the institutions. They proposals include:

  • introduction of the sanction “Closing of a venue”  for systemic breaches of the ban;
  • introduction of trained representatives of the public in the enforcement of the smoking ban, according to Art. 37, para. 2 of the Administrative Violations and Penalties Act, which states that “Fines may also be written by representatives of the public if they are authorized to do so by a legal act”;
  • enabling control authorities to demand an identity document to be able to draw up acts of administrative violation of individuals;
  • introducing a definition of “indoor / outdoor public place” in the Additional Provision;
  • introduction of texts prohibiting outdoor advertising and advertising in the points of sale of tobacco and related products through the Transitional and Concluding Provisions to draft law for amending and supplementing the Health Health Act to amend the Act on Tobacco and on Tobacco and Related Products.