10 March 2005
BRUSSELS – Restaurants, cafes and bar landlords claim a smoking ban in Belgium could cost between 20-40,000 jobs, it was reported on Thursday.
La Libre Belgique said catering industry representatives who went with Health Minister Rudy Demotte to Ireland and Italy had returned convinced that banning smoking would hit their profits.
Demotte is keen to introduce some kind of ban on smoking in eating and drinking places and had hoped to win the industry over by showing them Irish and Italian profits have remained virtually the same since the change.
However, Belgian landlords have concluded their country is more vulnerable to the change. “What we saw was an increase in turnover on food and a decrease on drinks turnover,” said Yvan Roque, vice-president of the Horeca [Hotels, Restaurants and Cafes] Federation in Brussels.
“However, since food in cafes only counts for 20 percent of the overall turnover, we are talking about an overall loss of 4.5-9 percent. That’s enormous in relation to the profit margins in the industry in Belgium and would lead to a number of bankruptcies and closures.”
At the moment, the Horeca sector employs more than 500,000 workers in 55,000 businesses, generating EUR 588 million in VAT for the state.
“In 2002, the industry created 62 percent of new jobs. All these statistics show, at the very least, the need to start serious evaluations before taking a decision,” said Roque.
It is understood that Demotte is considering economic measures to help businesses and workers who could be affected by a ban.
Some politicians want to see tax changes to boost the industry.
“The government should really aim to lower VAT from 21 percent to six before taking this proposal any further,” argued Denis Ducarme, from the centre-right Mouvement Reformateur.
“That could amount to a difference of EUR 1 billion, 310 million,” he said.
Ducarme also wants to see the question of a smoking ban put before parliament for debate and has asked the Health Commission to explore the idea by interviewing Horeca representatives and Demotte.
He added: “If smoking is going to be properly tackled, the government can’t act hastily without consulting the Horeca sector, a sector which remains one of the most at risk of bankruptcy and which has a third of workers living on the poverty line.”
Demotte has insisted he won’t rush any ban through. A spokesperson for his office said discussions would be held with representatives from cafes, bars, restaurants and hotels and a decision would probably not be taken before summer.
“The minister hasn’t hidden his preference for the Italian model which involves sealed smoking rooms,” said the spokesperson.
[Copyright Expatica 2005]
Subject: Belgian news