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Anti-smoking plan attracts opposition

Published on 09/06/2005

9 June 2005

BRUSSELS – Health minister Rudy Demotte’s plan to outlaw smoking in restaurants has attracted a two-pronged opposition.

On Wednesday, the francophone daily ‘Le Soir’ reported that both the centre-right MR party and the Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt’s Liberal VLD party are opposed to the proposals.

While the MR party wants the socialist minister to go further in his ban, VLD favours a laissez-faire approach.

When the draft law was discussed by the senate’s committee for social affairs the social democratic SPA and the left-wing Spirit party also indicated they had questions about it.

MR member Nathalie de T’Serclaes was unhappy that although restaurants would be smoke-free from 1 January 2007, opt-outs would be possible for bars and cafes which have food sales of less than a third.

Presenting the proposals, Demotte’s head of cabinet Renaud Witmeur explained: “In total, 86 percent of workers in Horeca will be protected from the harmful effects of tobacco.”

“I don’t see why the remaining 15 percent will have to perish,” reacted De T’Serclaes, who wants to see a total ban.

Witmeur said: “The minister didn’t want that option for economic reasons, but also because the ban in restaurants already amounts to a step forward and finally, he didn’t want that option for convivial reasons.”

While De T’Serclaes wants to see Belgium opt for a ban more like the Italian and Irish models, Witmeur argued that there needed to be a “social acceptability” before such a step.

MR senator and ex-footballer Marc Wilmots argued that sports bars and clubs needed to be included in the legislation.

He said he didn’t want to see young sportsmen and women having to put up with passive smoking.

Witmeur said the minister would be prepared to outlaw smoking in sports clubs if a suitable definition of a sports club could be established.
VLD members, however, are arguing that the government should allow all bars and cafes to decide themselves whether they want to be smoking or non smoking – a suggestion which some SPA and Spirit members support, but which Witmeur says would not work in practice because small bars are too dependent on their customers.

However, politicians of all colours are questioning whether the condition of 33 percent maximum food sales to obtain a smoking opt-out is enforceable.
VLD and MR are both concerned that Demotte’s proposal does not contain a mention of the tax relief that restaurateurs and bar owners will receive in the case of affected sales or expenses involved in making the changes.

Demotte’s draft decree is to be discussed by the council for hygiene before being sent to the Council of State to check its legal workability.
[Copyright Expatica 2005]

Subject: Belgian news