Belgian smoking ban "is illegal"
A judge in Tongeren has made a remarkable ruling in the case of a café owner who was on trial for having violated the smoking ban in the restaurant/café sector.
According to the judge the royal decree in question is not legal because it violates the principle of equality. He acquitted the café owner.
The 31-year-old café owner Davy Coenen, who manages a café/snack bar, was taken to court for violating the smoking ban eight times between February 2007 and June 2008. There were no non-smoking signs on the wall, and there were ashtrays on the tables.
The judge ruled that there is a lack of clarity in the smoking ban, according to which certain types of cafés may allow smoking and others may not. According to the judge the royal decree violates the principle of equality. "This encourages unfair competition," said the judge.
The judge concluded that the royal decree should be dismissed as illegal and the the café owneracquitted.
Davy Coenen argued that the current smoking ban regulation is unclear. "This ruling is very good for us. From 1 January 2007 I just left the ashtrays on the tables. I always found the smoking legislation very unclear, and so I let people smoke in my establishment."
"The new law is just as lame as old one"
In the meantime new legislation governs the ban on smoking in the café/restaurant sector. The law was approved by the lower house of parliament, the Chamber of Deputies, but must still be approved by the Senate.
According to Luc Joossens of the Cancer Foundation, the new law is not an improvement on the old one. "The new law contains the same shortcomings as the old one and is just as unclear," he claims. "Smoking is allowed in establishments that do not serve food that have an expiration date of longer than three months. What does this mean exactly? Cheese, for example, can it be kept for 2, 3 or 4 months? This is incredibly vague!"
Dr Joossens points to discrimination in the law that still persists, "Smoking is banned except in cafés, discotheques and casinos. Why can people smoke there and not in other places."