Several establishments in Brussels continue to allow customers to light up indoors, violating regulations on indoor smoking implemented almost a decade ago, recent health inspections revealed.
Checks carried out in July saw federal health inspectors visit 97 different bars and cafés in municipalities across the Brussels-Capital Region, such as Forest, Anderlecht, Schaerbeek, and Molenbeek.
Over half (53) were not in compliance with the ban, and inspectors drew up a total of 43 official reports against the establishment’s owners, with an additional 19 reports targeting indoor smokers caught red-handed, De Standaard reported.
A general ban on indoor smoking in all food and drinking establishment came into force in 2011 and included not only cigarettes but also e-cigarettes and water pipes.
Almost ten years into the ban, the infringements prove that regular onsite inspections remain necessary to ensure compliance, chief inspector Paul Van den Meerssche said.
“It’s a mentality problem,” he said. “The rules are there, but people do not necessarily believe that they must be observed.”
The checks also highlighted a trend which sees officials in Brussels adopt a more lax approach to violations of the ban than their Flemish or Walloon counterparts.
While Van den Meerssche explained that noncompliant establishments in those regions were often faced with fines or even temporary closures, offenders in Brussels were most often given an administrative fine and later referred to the prosecutor’s office.
“Given [prosecutors’] high workload and major responsibilities, such as terrorism, the smoking ban is not immediately a priority” and the fine is often dismissed, he said.
Additionally, the chief inspector said that competent authorities in Brussels were understaffed, operating with only two out of the required four inspectors.