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In the Newsroom

March 12, 2009
Cigarettes flicker in Spain despite ban on smoking

A sign outside a restaurant in Madrid says “Here, you can smoke.”

In 2006, Spain banned smoking in offices, hospitals, schools and enclosed spaces. Worldfocus correspondent Martin Seemungal is currently reporting from Spain. He writes that three years after the law banned smoking, the air is still thick with smoke.

Spain — a nice place to visit and a great place to live.

That’s certainly the impression you get speaking to just about anyone who has ever been here. They talk about the food, the wine, the weather, the friendly people and the atmosphere.

All that is true. But there’s one little tidbit of information they seem to have left out: The smoke.

Amid great national debate, Spain “imposed” a smoking ban three years ago. You’d never know it. Traveling around in Barcelona, Valencia and down in Andalusia, it’s not easy finding a smoke-free environment to eat in. As far as I can tell, virtually all the bars and cafés are smoke-filled, not smoke-free.

As it turns out, it’s the law’s fault. It gives restaurant and bar/café owners an option. They can, if they wish, declare their establishment “smoke-free.”  Or, they can put up a sign making it clear that “smoking is permitted.”

Of course, they have to clearly demarcate smoking and non-smoking sections, but in tiny Barcelona cafés — in winter, with the doors and window shut — it makes no difference.

I travel a lot, and in recent months my travels have taken me to France, Belgium, Germany, and Italy. I have never had to leave a place because a smoker “lit up” next to me, or walk in only to have to turn around and walk out again because of thick cigarette smoke. In Spain, I spent nearly an hour once trying to find a smoke free place to eat.

I believe there may well be more smokers in Spain than anywhere in the world. That’s certainly the way it seems. And they’re not all Spanish: I listen intently to the accents and have heard those of many different nationalities, many of them from European countries with strict smoking laws.

Of course, this is all very serious to organizations like Spain’s National Committee for the Prevention of Tobacco Addiction. It has released figures which underscore the impotence of the smoking ban. In the three years since the “ban” came into place, the number of adult smokers in Spain is pretty much the same — it’s gone from 24.2 percent to 24.1 percent.

The number of smoking-related deaths is also incredibly high at 50,000 every year. Given the way things are going in sunny Spain, that seems unlikely to change.

– Martin Seemungal

Watch for Worldfocus’ upcoming series on Spain in the coming weeks.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user under a Creative Commons license.

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Great info. A Spanish friend recently told me this law has changed to ban smoking further in public places. I hope this is true. I was having coffee the other day and the woman behind me burnt my coat with her cig trying to get away from her own fumes! I love Spain, but really! The Marlboro man is dead.


Iwalked in to a restaurant in gran canaria where the smoke was thicker than the fog on the tyne lol anyway we sat down after a few minutes I was choking with the numptys smoking behind me causing me to cough and splutter we then heard one of them come away with a obnoxious comment. I turned to the wife and said well my dear I hope this swine flu I got clears soon next thing the full tableful of smoking hypocrites were complaining to the manager that a diner with swine flu was in the premises imagine that lol ok I was only kiddin but lets you see that those selfish disease spreading numptys wanted to change the goalposts to suit their end never mind everyone catching cancer from their evil habit. point made to all you scumbags out their with no thought for others exceptwhen you are on the receiving end.


excellent news !! – i shall book my holiday to spain immediately – and buy thousands of cigarettes there and thus take my taxes away from the uk – and quite possibly decide to live there – or greece – and take my money with me and leave the non smokers to buy uk ltd out of depression – as they have NOT done with all the pubs they promised to use when we smokers were prevented from spending up to £10k each per year in our ”locals” – you can buy a bankrupt uk pub now for less than a house – many thanks non-smokers for failing to keep your promises to publicans – property developers thank you every day for making them even richer and the uk’s villages and towns and charities much much poorer both financially and socially!! well done uk non smokers !


i totally agree. i visit alicante about 6 times a year, as i like the weather and people but,
i dont like the smoke. it is all around you. i find the brits are the worst for smoking in doors. by the the way i am british. keep up the good work


Very good article – accurate description. It is virtually impossible to eat a smoke-free dinner in this country. You walk down the street and you’re surrounded by clouds of cigarette smoke.. You can’t even get away from the cigarette smoke when you’re in your own apartment (thanks to your dear neighbors who are smoking incessantly).. I can’t wait to get out of this stinky place.


How stupid.

“Really, what’s lamer than a pub without smoking?”

Dying slowly from emphysema, asthma, cancer, heart disease or a thousand other ailments caused by primary or secondary smoke is lamer than a pub without smoking.

Having limbs amputated because of exposure to smoke is also lamer than a pub without smoking.

But hey, I fully support the right of smokers to slowly kill themselves in the privacy of their own airspace. But not in mine or that of my children. Go smoke somewhere else.


Yes…great story! And it only serves to motivate me to accelerate my plans to travel to Spain. Really, what’s lamer than a pub without smoking? Thank goodness the Spaniards don’t appear to be too concerned with jumping on the PC nanny-state bandwagons :)


great story Martin keep up the good work

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