The last puff saloon?

15th November 2004, Comments 0 comments

Spain has banned smoking in the workplace and larger bars and restaurants without smoking areas will face fines. But will it really work?

Stubbed out: Smoking in public in Spain is to be curtailed

We have all been there before. You are in the middle of a great dinner, savouring the way Spaniards eat well so effortlessly. 

You have just finished your main dish and are perhaps sipping a decent glass of red.

Then someone at the table next to you lights up and somehow, no matter what you do, the smoke billows over towards you.

This happens not infrequently in Spain, which has the highest number of smokers in Europe after Greece.

Up in smoke: New laws will change the face of Spanish restaurants

But now all this has now changed.

From 1 January, Spain introduced one of the toughest bans on smoking in Europe. 

Smoking in all workplaces has ended. In bars and cafes over 100 square metres in size, owners have to create designated non-smoking areas. Tobacco sales to minors are to be toughly controlled. Advertising tobacco products will be severely limited, though not in Formula One racing. 

*sidebar1*The new law, which came into action on New Year's Day, has replaced previous legislation which health minister Elena Salgado condemned as one of the  "most permissive" in Europe.

The new law includes limits on sales and on print, radio and television advertising. Those who break the law - including smokers who light up inside offices -  face fines of up to EUR 593,000.

But controversially, cash from these fines will not be used to finance anti-smoking programmes despite the fact smoking is the biggest killer in Spain.

Each year 55,000 people die - more than from Aids, not-related forms of cancer and road accidents put together.

Salgado said the legislation is aimed at trying to stop children starting smoking early, so tobacco sales to minors would be viewed as "very serious" infractions.

The law is also partly aimed at protecting the rights of non-smokers and making it easier for smokers to quit.

The limits on tobacco use will distinguish between places where it is absolutely prohibited and others where it will be allowed only in designated smoking areas.

In general, smoking is now banned in public and private workplaces, health facilities and schools, indoor sports facilities, recreational and leisure facilities, and places where food is produced, prepared or sold.

The same ban applies to lifts, telephone boxes, cash machines and bus stations, as well as to trains and ferries.

Sign of the times: Such signs will become more familar

So how will the Spanish react to what many predict will be a seismic cultural change?

An editorial in the Spanish daily El Pais argued that the problem will not be tackled simply by tough legislation.

"The first obstacle is a cultural one; oncologists and cardiologists are always alerting us to the excessive social tolerance of tobacco, the biggest cause of avoidable deaths.

*quote1*"If society finds the deaths of 4,000 people on the roads each year in Spain unacceptable, why not the deaths of 55,000 Spaniards from smoking at a cost of EUR 3.5 billion?"

Some believe a crackdown on smoking, particularly in restaurants and bars, is long overdue.

*sidebar2*Isabel Maestre, writer of the authoritative Good Food Manual, considers smoking and eating out "dreadful".

Maestre says: "We cannot have smoke in the atmosphere when we eat; we lose the tastes and the smells. And it is not right to smoke between courses."
 
Many believe the hardest part of implementing the new law will be in restaurants and bars, because many restaurateurs fear it will result in a drop in business.
 
Jose Luis Guerra, spokesman for the Spanish Hoteliers Federation, pointed to the example of the ban on smoking in bars and restaurants in Ireland, where he claimed it had hit business.

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