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News 16 Mar 16

Romanians Say Goodbye to Smoking in Bars

In a move welcomed by medics and most members of the public, Romania has banned smoking in enclosed public venues such as bars, cafes and restaurants.

Marian Chiriac
BIRN
Bucharest
Smoking is banned in all enclosed public spaces in Romania | Photo: Inquam Photos-Octav Ganea

Shortly after the midnight on Wednesday, Alina Tronaru regretfully stubbed out her last cigarette in a restaurant.

Together with some other friends, the 32-year-old joined a "farewell” party for smokers in a fancy restaurant in downtown Bucharest.

She is not giving up smoking, however, just giving up smoking in public places.

"This was our last night of free puffing in a restaurant and we wanted to mark the event," she said.

"I'm not sure I will enjoy going out much now as I've decided to remain a smoker. This is a habit that cannot be contained so easily,” she added.

Romania banned smoking in enclosed areas, including bars, discotheques and restaurants, from March 16, part of new curbs welcomed by anti-tobacco campaigners. How and even whether the ban will be enforced remains to be seen.

Under the new rules, anyone in Romania who violates the ban, which includes smoking in offices and hospitals as well as sporting arenas, must pay a fine of 500 lei [some 112 euro].

Any clubs, bars and restaurants that will still allow people to smoke inside risk having their activities suspended, besides paying hefty fines.

In the country of 19.5 million people, where a quarter of all adults are smokers, the ban has caused some controversy.

Most Romanians welcome the move, however. A recent study showed that around 78 per cent of Romanians in urban areas agreed with it.

"I was waiting for such a decision for years. In Bucharest, it was almost impossible to find a non-smoking place to eat. This was not normal,” Sergiu Ionescu, an engineer, said.

Many smokers oppose the ban on the grounds that it is too harsh, but even most of them say they will accept it.

The radical change in legislation is expected to affect the bar and restaurant trade for a while, at least. 

"I expect sales to be lower than usual for the next two months. After that, people will get used to the change and business will return to normal,” Octav Dura, owner of a pub in central Bucharest, predicted.

Casino owners are worried that the smoking ban will lead to lower revenues as gamblers go outside to smoke once in a while.

Stricter smoking regulations come after 64 people died from a blaze at the Colectiv nightclub in Bucharest on October 30.

The blaze was started by fireworks, not cigarettes. However, in the aftermath of the disaster, authorities came under pressure to tighten security regulations for clubs. Experts said banning smoking in bars and clubs was a necessary move in this direction.

Medics are all for the change. "Banning smoking in all public places is the only way to protect people from exposure to tobacco smoke,” Florin Mihaltan, president of the Romanian Society of Pneumology, said.

"Statistics reveal that although 73 per cent of Romanian adults don’t smoke, many of them suffer and die prematurely from diseases caused by smoking,” he added.

Studies say that around one in four adults in Romania smoke, over 4.4 million people, while 6.5 million more are subjected to passive smoking at home and 2 million at work.

Some MPs want to ease the ban. Daniel Fenechiu on Tuesday said he would try to change the law by adding a more precise definition of enclosed public spaces,so that smoking would still be allowed on terraces that had at least two walls around them.

His draft law also aims to allow smokers to form smoking associations or clubs, which can meet in spaces exclusively dedicated to smoking and associated activities.

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