SOFIA Bulgaria's ruling party has proposed watering down a new smoking ban in the country with the second highest percentage of smokers in the European Union.
The center-right GERB party, which won general elections last July, said its proposed relaxation of a ban on smoking in all public places would avoid hurting the tourist industry during tough economic times.
The proposed changes have the support of the Socialists but some of GERB's rightist allies in parliament said they would vote against them.
According to a draft submitted to parliament, restaurants and cafes smaller than 100 square meters (1,000 sq ft) in size will decide whether to allow smoking while larger establishments would be required to designate separate non-smoking halls.
Similar measures were imposed as part of a partial smoking ban in 2005 but have been widely ignored. Smoking will remain forbidden in all public buildings and on public transport.
The Balkan country of 7.6 million people has the second highest percentage of smokers in the EU after Greece. More than half of men and about a third of women smoke, surveys show.
(Reporting by Irina Ivanova; Editing by Michael Roddy)