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News 20 Jul 17

Macedonia Moves to Make Smokers' Lives Easier

MPs from the ruling majority have submitted a bill that aims to ease the current strict ban on public smoking, which they say is damaging the hospitality industry and infringing on smokers' individual rights.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Lindsay Foxvape

Macedonian MPs are proposing amendments to the current strict anti-smoking law to allow smoking inside cafés and restaurants if they meet certain conditions and have enough space for a special smoking section, no larger than 30 per cent of the entire establishment.

The current regulation only allows smoking on open terraces and outside cafes and restaurants, which the MPs who proposed the changes says deters smokers from visiting such establishments, especially during the winter months.

They say this is undermining the hospitality industry in a country where some half of the adult population puffs regularly.

“The hospitality sector faces a drastic fall in income [of around 75 per cent] when the weather conditions are not favourable [from late autumn to early spring],” MPs from the Social Democrat-led majority wrote in their proposition.

The strict smoking curbs drew flak right from when they were introduced in 2010 by the then ruling right-wing VMRO DPMNE party, which insisted on the need to prioritise people's health.

The then opposition Social Democrats, SDSM, deemed the measure draconian, however, and the Association of Tourism and Catering Industries even threatened to take the Law to the Constitutional Court, as they claimed it promoted discrimination.

“We have asked for changes for a long time, so this may ease our troubles … Many hospitality establishments face drastic falls in income during winter, either because they do not have open terraces, or must force people out into the cold regardless,” the Association told BIRN.

People on the street have divided opinions about the practicality of the smoking ban.

“I got used to it [the ban] so I smoke outside. Now my clothes do not smell of smoke when I spend the night somewhere [in a club or restaurant]” Martina Davidovic, a 33-year-old from Skopje, told BIRN.

“There is no perfect solution … There should be a balance between smokers’ rights and of those who do not smoke. But this is easier said than done … The smoking ban should be eased a bit but not scrapped entirely,” David Mojsoski said.

Besnik, owner of a small billiards club from Skopje, said that he hoped the changes would boost his income.

“Most of my customers are smokers and they would appreciate it [smoking indoors]. I have no terrace because the space does not allow it," he said.

"I once wanted to obtain a permit for a night club [as they allow smoking indoors] but for that you need deep pockets or connections in high places, which I do not have,” Besnik explained.

The amendments to the smoking ban were not unexpected, as the Social Democrats, who came to power in May, have long been advocating a more liberal approach.

BIRN was not able to get a reaction from the former ruling VMRO DPMNE party on Wednesday.

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