The demonstration in Brussels was organised by the federation of cafe owners and restaurateurs, which claims that 4,000-5,000 of the country's 12,000 cafes are threatened with closure by the new legislation which will ban smoking in all of the HORECA (Hotels, Restaurants, Cafes) industry as of 1 July.
Smoking has been banned in work places, restaurants and pubs that serve food since 2009, while temporary exemptions had been granted to casinos and cafes that only serve snacks. The law had called for the exemptions to end sometime between 1 January 2012 and 1 January 1, 2014, but the Flemish Anti-Cancer League asked Belgium's constitutional court to strike them down. The court decided to lift the exemptions but gave establishments until 30 June to "adapt to the general smoking ban."
The judges ruled that the government failed to prove that pubs would be harmed by a general smoking ban, saying that drawing distinctions between establishments was actually harmful to competition.
The court also stated that the protection of the health of employees and non-smokers should apply to casinos even though they serve a "specific" clientele.
Café and bar owners argue a total ban on smoking in pubs is unacceptable because it would result in a 30 to 50 per cent loss of revenues and have a knock-on effect on breweries and other suppliers. They want the option to declare their premises smoking or non-smoking. (pi)