"Smoking ban is illegal"

A judge in Tongeren (Limburg) has made a remarkable ruling in the case of a café owner who was on trial for having violated the smoking ban in the restaurant/café sector. According to the judge the royal decree in question is not legal because it violates the principle of equality. He acquitted the café owner.

The 31 year old café owner Davy Coenen, who manages a café/snack bar, was taken to court for having violated the smoking ban 8 times between February 2007 and June 2008. There were no non-smoking signs on the wall, and there were ashtrays on the tables.

The judge ruled that there is a lack of clarity in the smoking ban, regarding which types of cafés may allow smoking and which may not. According to the judge the royal decree violates the principle of equality. "This propagates unfair competition," said the judge.

The judge concluded that the royal decree should be thrown out as illegal and he acquitted the café owner.

Davy Coenen had indeed argued that the current smoking ban regulation is unclear. "This ruling is very good for us. From 1 January 2007 I just left the ashtrays on the tables. I always found the smoking legislation very unclear, and so I let people smoke in my establishment."

"The new law is just as lame as old one"

In the meantime there is new legislation regarding a ban on smoking in the café/restaurant sector. The law was approved by the lower house of parliament, the Chamber of Deputies, but must still be decided on in the Senate. According to Luc Joossens of the Cancer Foundation, the new law is not an improvement on the old one.

"The new law contains the same shortcomings as the old one and is just as unclear," says Luc Joossens. "Smoking is allowed in establishments that do not serve food that have an expiration date of longer than three months. What does this mean exactly? Cheese, for example, can it be kept for 2, 3 or 4 months? This is incredibly vague!"

Dr Joossens points to the discrimination in the law that persists, "Smoking is banned except in cafés, discotheques and casinos. Why can people smoke there and not in other places."