Bulgaria has joined the family of European countries where smoking in indoor public places is prohibited. With the recent amendments to the Healthcare Act adopted by the Bulgarian Parliament, as of 1 June this year smoking in Bulgaria is not allowed in workplaces, restaurants, cafes and night clubs. Smoking will also be prohibited in stadiums and sports facilities, as well as in summer theaters and cinemas. The prohibition applies to schoolyards, playgrounds, sidewalks around nurseries and kindergartens, and places where outdoor events for children and students are taking place.
A similar ban on smoking in Europe was introduced in Ireland in 2004, followed by Britain, Spain, Hungary, and Greece. In another 10 European countries there are special rooms for smokers. A significant proportion of Bulgarians approve the ban while the negative response comes mainly from smokers and the owners of some restaurants and entertainment facilities. Restaurateurs say it is a heavy blow on their businesses and expect to lose customers by the introduction of the ban. According to Dr. Sofia Angelova, Assistant Professor in the hospital for active treatment of lung diseases Saint Sophia in the capital Sofia, the ban on smoking in public places should have been introduced several years ago.
"I want to remind that in 2005 Bulgaria ratified the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. And accordingly, an adjustment period of 5 years entered into force since February 2006 for preparation before the introduction of the total ban on smoking, which means that in February 2011 this had to happen. Unfortunately, it did not happen then. So now, on June 1, 2012, albeit belatedly, we comply with the European standards and become a country where this Convention is enforced. Here I want to stress that all countries having ratified the Framework Convention recognize the devastating effect of tobacco smoke on passive smokers. This law does not prohibit smokers to smoke. Everyone has made his or her own choice. I've always said that they can smoke, but only where there is no harm to others around you. "
With about 2 million smokers, Bulgaria holds a leading position in the European rankings, says Sofia Angelova. According to the National Centre of Public Health, as of 2007, 52% of men and 38 percent of women smoke.
"Unfortunately, smokers are also children, especially teenagers in the 9th and 10th grade who are 15-16-year-olds," Dr. Angelovaexplains. "Nearly 40 percent of them smoke on a regular basis. And 83% of Bulgarian children who were polled say they have tried cigarettes. These are alarming facts when talking about the health status of the Bulgarian population. We should not forget that Bulgaria has a leading position in Europe in terms of mortality from cardiovascular diseases. This is a fact which is due to smoking because it causes over 25 diseases, most of them malignant. It is proven that smoking is a factor not only for lung cancer, but for almost all organs and systems."
In European countries where a total ban on smoking has been introduced, there is a dramatic effect on the health status of the population, Sofia Angelova continues. This is reflected in the Green Paper on Europe, containing reports of the health ministries of these countries. For example, in Italy the incidence of myocardial infarction and hospitalization for such cases has decreased by 11% and in Scotland by 17 per cent. In the provinces in Germany with a total ban on smoking in public places, the cost of treating the same disease has decreased by 20%. Annually, the German health system saves nearly 8 million euro from that only. Thus, improving the health status of the population turns into a way of saving money. As to the fears of some businesses in Bulgaria that with the introduction of the ban the number of customers will go down, there are facts in the Green Paper, which refute these concerns:
"Attendance is actually increasing”, Dr. Angelova says, “because those who do not smoke and avoided restaurants earlier will not come back to them. And this will happen also in Bulgaria. The Green Paper includes data that in Europe for example, the attendance of restaurants in France actually increased by 9.3%, which means that incomes of restauranteurs have also increased. So I think that that such fears are futile."
Studies in night bars in the countries with a total ban on smoking show that the amount fine dust particles swallowed by passive smokers who dance in these clubs has decresed by 80 percent. On the other hand, the health status of the bartenders in these establishments is improved and fewer patients are admited into hispitals over respiratory conditions. When a person is healthy, it is easy to earn money. And people will see how nice it is to breathe fresh air, not cigarette smoke on a night out, Sofia Angelova concludes.
English version: Rossitsa Petcova