Spain gets tough in second attempt at smoking ban


SPAIN’S SECOND attempt to enforce a smoking ban came into force yesterday giving it one of the strictest anti-smoking laws in Europe.

Not only will smoking be banned in all public buildings, bars, restaurants and cafes but also outdoors near schools, hospitals and playgrounds. Only certain areas in prisons and mental hospitals are exempt and hotels can designate a limited number of rooms for smokers.

Many Spaniards – more than half of them women –­ are smokers who are reluctant or unable to give up their habit. At a recent wedding, I was the only non-smoking guest at a table of 10, and the proud groom handed round Cuban cigars to his friends and family who all puffed away.

Not surprisingly, doctors are delighted with the law. They estimate that 160 people, four of them passive smokers, die from tobacco-related diseases in Spain every day.

Four years ago the government introduced its first anti-smoking law banning smoking in the workplace, but giving restaurant and bar owners the right to choose whether their customers could smoke or not. Most preferred to ignore the ban and only larger restaurants separated smokers from non-smokers.

But now they could face fines of between €60 and €100,000 if they allow clients to smoke on their premises. They fear that they could lose at least 10 per cent of their trade if the smoking ban is enforced and complain that their businesses were already suffering from Spain’s economic crisis.

Spain has a strong cafe culture, with many people regularly having their breakfast or lunch in local bars or meeting friends and family for a drink and cigarette after work or at weekends. But yesterday most Madrid bars and restaurants had reluctantly put their ashtrays away and non-smokers delighted in the fact that they could enjoy their drink without looking through a cloud of tobacco smoke.

Carmen (35), and a group of girlfriends went out for a pre-Sunday lunch drink yesterday. They were delighted with the law. “I gave up smoking two years ago and am glad I did. It was time Spain caught up with the rest of Europe,” she said.

But the smokers were not so happy. Several groups of angry looking men huddled in the cold outside Casa Jose bar in the centre of Madrid yesterday puffing on their cigarettes. When they had finished they went inside for their Sunday morning drink and tapas, but preferred not to hang around for a second drink.