Belgium will ban smoking in restaurants as of Monday, joining a growing European trend to restrict smokers.
Anti-smoking organizations insisted the Jan. 1 ban did not go far enough since it did not include cafes and bars, while restaurant owners complained the move would cut deep into their income.
"It is an important step but it does not go far enough," said Luk Joossens of the Foundation Against Cancer.
Under the legislation, smoking will be banned in the restaurant area itself and patrons will only be allowed to light up in special rooms sealed off from where food is served.
Many were also questioning whether the authorities would be enforcing the new law strictly enough.
"Confusion reigns in our country," strategic analyst for the ruling liberal party Noel Slangen wrote in De Morgen Saturday. "The reality is that there is not enough political courage to counter the large group of smokers."
The Health Ministry promised that up to 25,000 checks a year will be carried out. Fines can go as high as euro1,650 (US$2,200).
Ireland, Italy, Malta, Norway, Sweden and Scotland have banned lighting up in bars and restaurants, and many others have imposed restrictions on smokers.
England is to follow later in 2007 and France, long known for its smoke-filled restaurants, is to follow on New Year's day 2008.
Belgium already banned smoking in the workplace and many public places as of Jan. 1, 2006, to protect non-smokers after it realized voluntary measures had failed.
The Foundation Against Cancer said some 2,500 people a year die in Belgium from secondhand smoking. The European Union said tobacco is the single largest cause of avoidable death in the 25-nation bloc, accounting for more than half a million deaths a year. An EU survey this year showed that over half the EU population backs a smoking ban in restaurants.
The NSZ federation of restaurant owners complained that such restrictions put the sector at risk.
"Whether we like it or not, smokers are good customers. Many owners fear it will have an impact on their turnover," said NSZ spokeswoman Christine Mattheeuws.