SOFIA Bulgaria's parliament voted on Thursday to ban smoking in all indoor public spaces from June 1 in an attempt to persuade one of Europe's heaviest smoking nations to kick the habit.
The European Union's poorest member state has joined a growing list of nations to ban smoking in bars and restaurants. It also agreed to forbid smoking outside nurseries and schools and at stadiums during sports and cultural events.
The move was welcomed by health experts and non-smokers.
More than 40 percent of the adult population smokes in the Balkan country.
Inspectors will impose fines of up to 5,000 levs for a first offence and up to 10,000 levs for a repeat violation for bar-owners or managers tolerating smoking in restricted areas. Smokers who break the law face up to 500 levs for a first offence, which could be doubled for repeat violations.
A survey showed 56 percent of Bulgarians, the second heaviest smokers in the EU after Greeks, oppose the total ban on smoking in closed public areas.
The Bulgarian hotel and restaurant association said it expected up to 18,000 people to lose their jobs as some bars and restaurants would be forced to close as smokers stayed away.
Businesses, already hit by the economic downturn, have asked for a three-year reprieve for restaurants, bars and cafes, and for nightclubs to be made exempt altogether.
Opponents say the ban is likely to put pressure on public revenues as Bulgaria tries to cut its fiscal deficit and avoid risks for its currency peg to the euro. Tax on cigarettes was 1 percent of public revenues in the first quarter of the year.
Health experts say the costs of caring for people with smoking-related diseases and reduced life expectancy far outweigh any losses.
Smoking causes lung cancer, which is often fatal, and other chronic respiratory diseases and is a major risk factor for cardiovascular diseases, the world's number one killers. It is described by the World Health Organisation WHO.L as "one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced".
(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Additional reporting by Kate Kelland in London; Editing by Janet Lawrence)