It's been a bad few weeks for smoking ban lovers. After events in Croatia last year, Macedonia's exceptionally draconian smoking ban — which includes some outdoor places — is coming under severe pressure. The law came into force last month, with a predictably devastating effect on trade. Now, even the Public Health Committee is having second thoughts:
The Macedonian parliament's Public Health Committee Wednesday endorsed the ruling party's motion to amend the strict anti-smoking law that has angered the country's many smokers since its introduction in January.
No wonder. Businesses are so angry that they closed down en masse for a day last month in protest.
The amendments come after the Macedonian Tourism Chamber revealed a survey showing an astonishing 90 per cent drop in profits among café and restaurant owners since the new law entered into force.
90 per cent? Ouch! Don't they know smoking bans are good for business?
In Poland, a proposal to 'protect' bar-workers from secondhand smoke has been opposed by... er, bar-workers. With a nice line in irony, the Polish Bar Tenders Association are asking the government to protect them from the smoking ban...
Polish bar tenders have addressed a dramatic appeal to Parliament warning that the planned ban on smoking in restaurants and pubs will cause many to go bankrupt.
The Polish Bar Tenders Association, which wrote the letter to the lawmakers, says their profession needs to be protected against the impact of the anti-smoking legislation.
In Cyprus, a group of MPs are organising to get the smoking ban overturned. The reason, of course, is that the Cypriots have seen the usual fall in bar trade:
Themistocleous told the Cyprus Mail yesterday, “This law does not just attack the tourist trade and bar and restaurant owners: it attacks all Cypriots. We hope to change the law by April and in any case before July.”
In a survey of bar owners last month, some estimated that their revenue had dropped by up to 40 per cent. Yesterday, however, one owner of a popular Nicosia bar said that the worst affected have reported 60 per cent losses.
And in Bulgaria, the smoking ban has been liberalised before it's even been introduced...
Bulgaria's ruling party ready to qualify ban on public smoking
Amendments aimed at qualifying the full ban on smoking in all public places in Bulgaria, due to come into force on June 1 2010, will be introduced by ruling party GERB, Bulgarian media said on February 18 2010.
The full ban, it was believed, would undermine Bulgaria's tourism and restaurant industry. The amendments will be more flexible to enable restaurant and bar owners to comply with the ban.
This now looks like a done deal, but the leader of the right-wing Democrats for a Strong Bulgaria is nonplussed, saying that it is...
Which should remind us what this is really about. It is significant that these countries are recent EU member states or are hoping to become members (see also: Turkey). Smoking bans are the easiest way to win gold stars from the EU mandarins, but, as time goes on, the claim that business will be unaffected becomes more and more difficult to sustain. Which is why a growing number of countries including Croatia, Portugal, Liectenstein, the Czech Republic, Greece, much of Germany and now Macedonia and Bulgaria have either voted against a ban or have amended it. As I reported recently, the ban in the Netherlands is being widely flouted, while the Spanish are going cold on bringing in "comprehensive" legislation.
"not a European thing to do"
But in Britain, despite a looming election, none of the big three parties are giving the public any reason to believe they will amend the law, despite overwhelming evidence that it has decimated the pub trade. The Tories don't see it as a vote winner and are terrified of announcing any policy that might be in the least bit controversial.
Seems to me that announcing a modest amendment that would allow smoking in some rooms or venues would win them votes from people who wouldn't normally vote Conservative, whereas it's hard to believe that many people are so intolerant as to vote against them just because they propose a little accommodation.
Whatever the case may be, it will be interesting to see if Gordon Brown cites the smoking ban as one of Labour's achievements when the campaign begins proper. He might do, but then he's not the politician Tony Blair was. A shrewd operator to the end, Blair quit four days before the ban came into force.