Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Belgium adopts full smoking ban

Starting 1 July Belgium will no longer be the last 'smoking island' in Western Europe, as the country adopts a full smoking ban for all public places including bars. Up until now, only establishments serving food faced a smoking ban while bars and clubs remained as smoky as ever. Following a court ruling today, Belgium will join its neighbours France, Netherlands, UK, and most states of Germany in making bars smoke-free.

Since I moved here I've told Belgians it was only a matter of time until their smoky bars went the way of the dodo. After all, when I move somewhere, smoking bans seem to follow. I was living in New York City when the smoking ban went into effect there in the summer of 2003. Then I moved to Chicago and saw a smoking ban take effect there. The same pattern was repeated when I moved to Washington shortly after. I was living in London when the smoking ban began in England in 2007, and I was living in Paris in 2008, the year France's ban on smoking in bars began. So it's been a great eight years for night-before-the-smoking-ban parties!

Now you may ask, how can a country with no government enact a smoking ban? Well the decision actually came from the courts, which continue to function even though Belgium hasn't had a government in almost a year. The Flemish Anti-Cancer League had challenged the exemptions for bars, casinos and cafes that don't serve food in the 2009 law. Those exemptions were set to end by January 2014, but in a ruling issued today Belgium's high court agreed with the plaintiffs that this was too long to wait. So the court struck down the exemptions, and there is no Belgian government to appeal the decision. The court said the government had failed to prove that bars would be harmed by a general smoking ban.

Smoking Bans as of March 2011      no restrictions      national ban in public indoor areas, but not in bars or weak enforcement     no national ban, but most localities have indoor bans      strong national ban in all public indoor areas with exceptions      strong national ban in all public indoor areas

As I've written about before, smoking bans in the EU vary widely. Some member states such as the UK, Sweden and the Netherlands have strict bans that allow no smoking indoors under any circumstances. Other countries like France have general smoking bans but allow bars to set up completely enclosed, ventilated rooms for smokers (and as anyone who's been to a Paris bar can attest, these are incredibly gross). In Germany most federal states have a ban but some still do not. Poland, Slovakia and Bulgaria remain the only EU countries with no ban at all.

It appears Belgium's ban is going to follow the French model, allowing bars to set up enclosed ventilated areas for smokers. Knowing the size of bars in Brussels, it's hard to imagine many of these places are going to find the space for this. Any way you slice it, it looks like this is the end of an era for Belgian nightlife - no longer the last refuge of the smoking class.


Brad Zimmerman said...

Poland may not have a ban on smoking ...but I know that Krakow, where I live, has a ban on smoking in restaurants, bars and at bus/tram stops. I don't know if it is legal to smoke in workplaces but I've never seen it, even at steel plants.

Anonymous said...

Your post/map is inaccurate. The main point being Germany. Only Bavaria has a full ban. All other states(Lander)retain choice in hospitality venues. Lets hope the Belgians fight back anyway.

Anonymous said...

Slovaki has a smoking ban, although it's only partial, similar to the current Belgian one.

Jan Hanca said...

Smoking in Poland is banned since November 15, 2010 in most of the public places, such as hospitals, schools, train stations, restaurants and pubs. Before it was banned also to smoke on tram/bus stops.

Pubs and restaurants can be an exception having a special place for smokers which is sealed off from the rest of the premises and specially designated for smoking - there are very strict regulations about ventilation and separation from the rest. In my city there are only few pubs having this possibility (it's not a small city).