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.