Stricter control of the smoking ban is required

The Smoke Free Life Coalition calls for more effective control of the compliance with the Total smoking ban in public places. The signal submitted by the citizen in the online platform supported by Smoke Free Bulgaria Initiative shows a series of violations of the law and problems with the inspections by the control bodies. The Coalition suggests a set of legislative changes that could overcome the imperfections in the control of the ban.

The Smoking ban in close and some open public places entered into force on 1st of June 2012. In the first few months showed a strict compliance of the ban but the following winter season and especially Christmas and New Year celebrations observed a general disregard of the law, complemented by a pressure from front groups for repealing of the ban. So far there has been several attempts in repealing the ban and going back to the old legislation that separates smokers from non-smokers. These repealing attempts have seen a series of protesting activities for and against the ban, yet so far the majority of the Bulgarian population has been supporting the ban.

Smoke Free Life Coalition strictly opposes the suggested changes submitted by the deputies of the nationalistic party “Obedineni patrioti” concerning the smoking in hospitality venues. The draft law submitted in the National Assembly on 11th of May 2018 allows smoking in separated rooms for smokers “that constitute no more than 50% of the commercial used for consumption in certain types of hospitality venues – restaurants, drinking hospitality venues, cafes, café-clubs and bars and discos”.

The Coalition is unconditionally for changes in the current Health Law but these changes should be aimed at improving the control of the compliance with the Total smoking ban, such as including additional control bodies, temporary close downs of venues that have recurrently violated the law and a clearer definition of what is a “closed” public space. In the statement submitted to the National Assembly on 15th of May the Coalition shared the necessary steps which could overcome the existing problems around the Total smoking ban compliance.

In order to assist the control bodies in identifying the sites where there is lack of compliance, the Smoke Free Bulgaria Association has created a digital platform for citizens to submit signals. The platform is operational since August 2012 and more than 8 200 alerts have been submitted so far (22 August 2016). In June 2016, the Association’s experts analyzed the reported signals and received answers from the RHE for 2015.

According to the data, only 18.5% of the inspections based on those signals have established an Violation. Most of the signals are usually for the same venues, which gives a reason to assume that the ban is systematically broken in these locations. After close inspection, it is obvious that, despite the raised charges, the violations continue, which discourages the citizen that the situation in the hospitality venue will change. There is no subsequent stricter and more deterring sanctions after the drafting of the act, the legal persons are not searched for and the higher amount of the property sanction is not used. The inspections in the late house are very few and Fridays and Saturdays when there are actual violations, and inspections with the police officer presence are episodic.