Smokers fume as Bulgaria stubs out cigarettes

SOFIA - Bulgaria started enforcing a full smoking ban in all enclosed public spaces including bars and restaurants on Friday as its notoriously heavy smokers fumed over the new regulations.

The small Balkan country is home to Europe's second-heaviest smokers after Greece, with health ministry data showing that 44 per cent of its total population of 7.4 million are regular smokers.

As of Friday, all of them risk fines of between $189-316 (S$243 -  406) if they light up in workplaces, bars, cafes, restaurants, children's playgrounds, school courtyards, open-air cinemas and even stadiums.

Up to now all bars and restaurants were allowed to have separate smoking and non-smoking sections, and smaller places could choose to be either.

"Everyone who smokes inside a restaurant from tomorrow is a boor," Prime Minister Boyko Borisov snapped Thursday.

Smokers countered that the ban is hypocritical.

"No ban is well-enforced is Bulgaria. It's illegal to sell cigarettes to minors but children are still seen smoking outside schools," right-wing opposition lawmaker Assen Agov said.

"This is disgusting! I feel discriminated against," Angelina Metodieva told AFP as she smoked outside her small cigarette and coffee shop in downtown Sofia early Friday.

"I work alone, I don't bother anybody. It's ridiculous. ... But the fines are very high," she added.

"If cigarettes are legal, smoking should also be legal. It was ok the way it was before when you could still light up in some places," said her friend, Ivelina Atanasova.

Some 600 health inspectors were already dispatched to bars and restaurants overnight Friday, and the first fines were already a fact, the state BNR radio reported.

Restaurant owners, who do not enforce the new regulations and allow smoking in their establishments, risk fines of between 1,000 and 5,000 leva.

"This is paradoxical! I am a restaurant owner, not a policeman. How do they expect me to enforce that?" Sofia restaurant owners association chief Atanas Dimitrov asked on state BNT television.

Others took things more in stride.

"I don't mind going out. I like to be in the fresh air when I smoke," Gabriela, who gave only her first name, told AFP as she enjoyed a puff in a public garden.

Parliamentarians, who also waved goodbye to their smoking room on Friday, joked that they would propose to change the status of parliament buildings to "airport" in order to get their special room back.

Become a fan on Facebook