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Smoke-free Spain?

June 7, 2010 – 12:05 pm

It seems a logical follow-on from my last post, which was about drinking and driving here in Spain, to talk about smoking. The recently-announced tightening of the anti-tobacco law is kicking up a hell of a stink – or rather, trying to remove it. The stink, that is, of cigarettes in all “public places”, from hotels (except for the 30% of the rooms which will be set aside for smokers), theatres and concert halls, to sports centres, indoor bullrings, as well as transport: buses, taxis, and metro – both inside carriages and on platforms. It even includes temporary tent-type structures, often used as extensions to restaurants. Lastly, and without doubt most significantly, bars (though they’ll still be allowed to sell cigarettes).

As an ex-, though still if I’m honest, occasional smoker (glass of wine and a cigarette on a Friday night, always outside, the perfect way to end the week), I wholeheartedly agree with getting rid of places which result in stinky clothes and smoke-infused hair. And even more so as a mother – like many others, I very rarely take my kids into bar where people are smoking inside, preferring a pavement table.

What isn’t a surprise is the burgeoning culture in clubes privados de fumadores (private smoking clubs), for those not willing to give up the weed. The Spanish are a die-hard, stubborn smoking race, who aren’t going to let a few little laws make them stop enjoying their beloved cigarette with their morning coffee, their lunchtime beer, their after-lunch coffee, or any other time or place (or drinking and driving, speeding etc). How do these clubs get around the law? Because they are officially “private spaces”.

One customer of such a club states that not only is he incapable of having a drink after his meal without smoking, but that he can’t have a conversation without a cigarette in his mouth. “I would prefer to have a party in my house, or have a pizza and a beer at home, than go to a restaurant where I can’t smoke and have an after-dinner drink in peace,” says our hardened nicotine addict. He blames the authorities for being addicted, saying that if it’s so bad for you, they should have banned it before. Hmmm. Nanny state, anyone?

A non-profit pro-smokers’ rights group claims that you aren’t protecting non-smokers by kicking 11 million people out onto the street, because it will bother the neighbours. Not a sound argument by anyone’s reasoning, though the mess and litter caused by the ash, fag ends and packs isn’t pleasant, especially since Spanish are used to chucking their butts on the floor in bars, and street ashtrays don’t abound here.

One pro-smoking pressure group has collected 400,000 signatures against the proposed new law. Other statistics, which for me are far more persuasive and shockingly black-and-white than people trying to protect their “right to smoke”, are that one in four women are exposed to cigarette smoke on a daily basis, mainly in bars and restaurants. It doesn’t state how many of these women are themselves holding a cigarette in their hands, rather than passively inhaling others’ smoke. Also interesting to note, if not surprising, are that the heaviest smokers are construction workers (43.5% are smokers), followed by hostelry workers (38.7%) and business people(36.5%). Smoking causes 55,000 deaths every year.

My own personal view is that the state trying to impose improved health on its citizens is a waste of time. What they need to do is educate young people better about the dangers of smoking, which is still not seen as socially unacceptable here in Spain, in the same way that it is in the UK and USA. That way, people will be able to decide for themselves, in an informed way, whether or not they smoke. If they do, then that is their own risk of contracting all the nasty diseases associated with cigarettes, in spite of having had these risks explained to them clearly.

Spanish people are stubborn, and don’t like having other people’s views and opinions foisted on them, as I have learned the hard way. They need to come to a decision independently. Let’s hope they are intelligent enough to realise that smoking ban=smoking is bad for me=I wonder why, maybe I should find out… cripes, lung cancer! pulmonary embollism! etc… OK, maybe I will give up. (Although extra smoking-provoked wrinkles are far more likely to work as a deterrent for Spanish women.) It’s just not as simple as smoking ban=give up smoking, as the government seems to think. Not that non-smokers are going to complain about everywhere suddenly not smelling musty and manky any more.

Spain continues to drag itself, kicking and screaming, into the politically-correct 21st century. But there are plenty that will continue to fight tooth-and-nail against such modernisation. It’s a fight on many fronts – moral (bullfighting), political (corruption/backhanders), religious (abortion) – and it makes today’s Spain a truly dichotomous society.

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