court ruling today, Belgium will join its neighbours France, Netherlands, UK, and most states of Germany in making bars smoke-free.
Since I moved here I've told Belgians it was only a matter of time until their smoky bars went the way of the dodo. After all, when I move somewhere, smoking bans seem to follow. I was living in New York City when the smoking ban went into effect there in the summer of 2003. Then I moved to Chicago and saw a smoking ban take effect there. The same pattern was repeated when I moved to Washington shortly after. I was living in London when the smoking ban began in England in 2007, and I was living in Paris in 2008, the year France's ban on smoking in bars began. So it's been a great eight years for night-before-the-smoking-ban parties!
Now you may ask, how can a country with no government enact a smoking ban? Well the decision actually came from the courts, which continue to function even though Belgium hasn't had a government in almost a year. The Flemish Anti-Cancer League had challenged the exemptions for bars, casinos and cafes that don't serve food in the 2009 law. Those exemptions were set to end by January 2014, but in a ruling issued today Belgium's high court agreed with the plaintiffs that this was too long to wait. So the court struck down the exemptions, and there is no Belgian government to appeal the decision. The court said the government had failed to prove that bars would be harmed by a general smoking ban.
Smoking Bans as of March 2011 no restrictions national ban in public indoor areas, but not in bars or weak enforcement no national ban, but most localities have indoor bans strong national ban in all public indoor areas with exceptions strong national ban in all public indoor areas
As I've written about before, smoking bans in the EU vary widely. Some member states such as the UK, Sweden and the Netherlands have strict bans that allow no smoking indoors under any circumstances. Other countries like France have general smoking bans but allow bars to set up completely enclosed, ventilated rooms for smokers (and as anyone who's been to a Paris bar can attest, these are incredibly gross). In Germany most federal states have a ban but some still do not. Poland, Slovakia and Bulgaria remain the only EU countries with no ban at all.
It appears Belgium's ban is going to follow the French model, allowing bars to set up enclosed ventilated areas for smokers. Knowing the size of bars in Brussels, it's hard to imagine many of these places are going to find the space for this. Any way you slice it, it looks like this is the end of an era for Belgian nightlife - no longer the last refuge of the smoking class.