It is not going too far to suggest that Bucharest (and Romania as a whole) has become a better place since March, when tough pro-health legislation outlawed smoking in almost all public indoor spaces.
It is enough to visit a restaurant and see how many families with children can enjoy eating out without fearing for their health. We were at the rather good Pescarus this past weekend and almost every other table in the impressive main dining room was occupied by a family.
One wall is taken up by large, floor-to-ceiling windows which can all be fully opened, creating a rather pleasant semi-terrace. And yet, because the three other walls are permanent, no smoking is allowed anywhere. Those who do want to smoke can sit outside on the actual, fully open air terrace.
If some rather nasty amendments to the current law are approved by parliament, smoking would be permitted in the area of Pescarus currently packed with families. In fact, just about any indoor space could once again become a smoking area. Bucharest’s old monicker of ‘The Smoking Section of Europe’ would once again be appropriate.
In a speech on Thursday the Health Minister Vlad Voiculescu spoke out against the new proposals, and condemned the Senate Health Committee (surely Ill Health Committee?) which has already approved them.
Before becoming a minister Voiculescu founded and ran an NGO which imported chemotherapy tablets from abroad and made them available (for free) to Romanians who could not afford to buy them. He knows what smoking can do to people, as any Minister of Health should. As he pointed out in his speech, more than 42,000 Romanians die each year of smoking-related diseases. And yet the country’s Senate Health Committee wants to reverse anti-smoking legislation. Parliament will vote on the senate’s amendments next week.
No, sometimes you really can’t make it up.
The key question of course is why is this matter even back on the agenda? After all, anti-smoking laws were passed, they were accepted by most of the population and have by and large been impeccably well respected. Why is this matter even back on the political agenda?
Short answer: the PSD (for it is they).
The PSD is well aware of the fact that December’s elections present possibly its last opportunity to ever form a government alone (or with compliant coalition partners such as the ALDE and the UDMR). Its core electorate (the elderly) is dying off fast. The new, dynamic, hedonistic generation of young Romanians does not share its reactionary values. As such, the PSD needs to get its core support out to vote more than ever. Repealing the pro-health bill that outlawed smoking in all indoor public spaces is a populist move designed to do just that: old people smoke, old people vote, and old people vote PSD.
Progressives must do all they can to block these amendments and keep Romania safe for our children. But are there enough of them?