Belgium set for smoking ban
Brussels - Belgium, where attitudes towards smokers have been among the most tolerant in Europe, is set to ban smoking in restaurants from 2007, the health ministry said on Saturday.
The move will mean Belgium joins European states such as Ireland, Italy, Malta and Norway, which have imposed similar clampdowns on smoking in public places.
"It could be agreed on Monday," Michele Vanderplaatsen, spokesperson for Health Minister Rudy Demotte said by phone, confirming local media reports.
The planned law is much less strict than those in place elsewhere. Smoking will still be permitted in bars and cafes, and Belgian restaurateurs will be able to set aside rooms for smokers as long as no food is served there.
An estimated 28 percent of Belgian adults smoke, just below the European Union average of 29 percent and well down on the 45 percent rate in Greece, home to the EU's heaviest smokers.
But Belgium and its restaurants have long had a tradition of tolerating smokers. Diners who ask their neighbours to put out a cigarette will often be given short shrift, while some eateries even have signs asking non-smokers to grin and bear the smoke.
Vanderplaatsen said attitudes could be gradually changing, noting that a ban on smoking on trains imposed by Belgium last year was gradually gaining acceptance after initial hostility.
"It may not ever be truly popular, but people will get used to it," she said of the proposed new measure, which Demotte is to discuss with restaurateurs on Monday.
Anti-smoking groups say Ireland's pioneering smoking ban in pubs, restaurants and workplaces has won broad acceptance just over a year after it was introduced in March 2004.
Cigarette sales in Ireland dropped about 18 percent last year compared to a 10 percent fall in 2003. But some in the catering sector blame the ban for a drop in their revenues.
Others say the decline of the Irish pub has more to do with high prices and lifestyle changes than the smoking ban.