Much of the Spanish media has been obsessed with the new anti-smoking laws in Spain which in theory came into effect one second after midnight on New Years Eve. Radio, newspapers and television gave the new laws massive coverage during the last week of December and during the first few days of January, interviewing people with all sorts of opinions, smokers and non-smokers alike.
According to the new law, smoking is now forbidden in all places of work, both public and private and all public buildings. Employees who want to smoke must do so outside, and must make up the time lost at work too.
Restaurants, discos and bars over 100m2 must provide a separate area for smokers which must be equipped with clear signs, be properly divided from the main area with its own ventilation system, must not be in an area where people have to walk through to get in or out of the establishment and can not be more than 30 percent of the total area of the establishment and never more than 300 metres.
Any establishments unable to provide a separate area with the said features are obliged to prohibit smoking altogether.
Owners of bars, cafes and restaurants under 100m2 can decide whether or not to allow smoking on the premises. Shops, supermarkets, newsagents (kioscos) etc. are no longer authorised to sell cigarettes, cigars or tobacco. The only establishments allowed to sell tobacco are licensed estancos, the traditional stamp and cigarette shops in Spain.
We travelled to north-west Spain last week for a short trip and it was interesting to see the regional differences in how the law was (not) being applied. In Castilla Leon, a region dominated by the opposition PP party, we did not come across one single establishment where it was forbidden to smoke. All small cafes and bars we visited in Avila and Zamora had notices in their windows saying “Smoking permitted on these premises”.
In the parador of Avila and the Parador of Zamora we were asked whether we wanted to sit at a table for smokers or non-smokers. Although we said non-smokers, we were placed at a table next to a couple of smokers, so the area made available for people wishing to smoke wasn’t exactly far away from non-smokers. And smoking was permitted in the cafes of both paradors.
Further south in Castilla la Mancha however (governed by the PSOE), things were different. In Alarcon Parador smoking is now forbidden in the restaurant and in parador rooms, and when we rang to book a table at the restaurant Las Rejas, we were “warned” by the person who took the booking over the phone that the restaurant was now a smoke-free zone.
And finally yesterday, when we went to collect some family members arriving at Alicante Airport, it was amusing to watch from the barrier hoards of mostly British and German tourists lighting up cigarretes as soon as they approached the arrivals barrier, completely oblivious to the continuous bilingual announcements on the airport tannoy system politely, but firmly, informing everyone that it was now forbidden to smoke in any public buildings in Spain, including inside the airport, except in the special areas made available for smokers.
In all regions we did seem to notice more people smoking in the streets, but that may be just have been because we were looking out for smokers more than usual. According to news reports a couple of days ago, local authorities are now worried about the increased amount of cigarette stubs on the pavements outside large office buildings and are appealing to smokers to deposit their stubs in the external ashtrays provided. We noticed that some shops, especially in the North, were still selling cigarretes. And there were still alot of cigarrete machines around.
So, it remains to be seen just how effective the new law proves to be. I have never ever seen the cashier at the local branch of my bank serve people without a cigarette burning in an old red ashtray next to her which she usually smokes infront of customers between transactions. I went to withdraw some money on New Years Eve, and there was still one burning away at her side and I was tempted to say “ultimo día, eh?”, but didn’t. I am looking forward to going next week to see if the ashtray is still there, lying empty next to her. Perhaps she will be one of the 500,000 people the Spanish government hopes will give up smoking thanks to the new restrictions. Or maybe she’ll be puffing away on the pavement outside, watching the queue of customers getting longer and longer!