Two irreconcilable camps react strongly to a new law banning smoking in one of Europe's heaviest smoking nations.
By Svetla Dimitrova for Southeast European Times in Sofia -- 16/06/12
A new law adopted by parliament in mid-May, extending Bulgaria's smoking ban to all indoor and some outdoor public areas, took effect on June 1st against the backdrop of a lingering war of words between the measure's opponents and supporters.
The move comes seven years after smoking was first disallowed in government buildings, schools, kindergartens, airports, public transport and taxis in Bulgaria.
Smoking is now also fully prohibited in cinemas, playgrounds, school courtyards, at open air events as well as restaurants, bars and cafes -- where, over the past seven years -- such facilities had to create separate sections for smokers in order to stay in business.
Patrons who wish to light up in between meals or drinks must now go outside or risk being fined 150 to 250 euros. Fines for owners -- or managers -- range from 2,500 euros for a first offence up to 5,000 euros for a repeat violation.
Nearly half of the 7.4 million Bulgarians smoke regularly, making the country the second heaviest-smoking nation within the EU after Greece.
The new legislation sparked strong, polarised reactions, including from supporters driven by public health concerns to critics outright denouncing the law as another attempt to limit individual rights and choice.
Neither camp was made up exclusively of non-smokers or smokers.
A long-time smoker herself, tera urged in a blog post to prohibit smoking in the streets too.
"I'm very glad that smoking has been banned in our café, which I called the cancer [ward] and avoided going there," she wrote. "By and large, smoking is a big folly and pouring of money down the drain. Everybody knows this in theory, but in practice…"
Defining smokers as crazy sociopaths who deliberately "kill other people and don't give a damn about it," koshmar is enraged by protests against the ban.
"It is a shame that the defenders of this disgusting scourge, the cigarettes, do not see an inch before their nose and wail about their rights being violated. If they ask me, they deserve not only fines, but psychiatric treatment and [court] sentences," he wrote.
Prominent Bulgarian journalist and political commentator Ivo Indzhev said he always felt angry at smokers practicing their harmful habit in his presence. But, he argued, "[it is] hypocritical to ban smoking, but not cigarettes."
Dimitar Kaldamukov said he is extremely disgusted with the hypocrisy behind the ban. "If smoking is harmful, so is alcohol, … cholesterol, … aerosols, plastic bags, etc. The health ministry is not only usurping the right to take decisions on my behalf, but to take clearly illogical decisions," he said.
The right solution, he argued, would have been to leave it to establishment owners to decide whether their restaurant, bar or café will be a smoking one.
Angel Grancharov said banning smoking in privately owned "public places" constituted a gross encroachment on the inviolable human rights of both smokers as well as the owners.
"The smoking ban is a symptom of an extremely dangerous tendency," he said.
Grncharov noted the measure did not affect him personally -- he quit smoking -- but he did not enjoy seeing "the freedom and even the dignity of fellow men being infringed upon."
"Freedom is an ultimate and unconditional value. If I have to choose between health and freedom, I will choose freedom, because what do I need health for if I am not free?!"