Spain’s smoking ban: stubbing out freedom
An anti-tobacco law in place since 2006 gives Spanish bars, restaurants and their clients the right to decide. But an imminent reform threatens to make that right –and the evocative smell of smoke– a thing of the past.
By Nick Lyne
Time was when the smell of Spain was a heady blend of coffee, cologne, and tobacco. The coffee is still there, and one still gets the occasional whiff of Heno de Pravia, but the Ducados are increasingly being stubbed out; and when a ban on smoking in bars and restaurants comes into force in January 2011, they will be gone forever.
Yes, Spain is finally extending its smoking ban to all public places.
The initial smoking ban was first introduced in 2006, and was meant to apply to all public places. But the Popular Party’s Madrid boss, Esperanza Aguirre, played the regional card, challenging the government and saying that she wouldn’t be enforcing the law in the capital’s bars and restaurants, which, if they were larger than 100 square metres had to create separate smoking areas; if their floor space was less than 100 square metres, they were free to decide whether they wanted to be smoking or non-smoking. The rest of the country followed suit. Common sense seemed to have prevailed.
A year later, a study by the Spanish Consumers’ Organisation said that only around 12 percent of bars and restaurants had decided to go smoke free. Surveys show that 44 percent of Spaniards oppose tougher restrictions, and 47 percent are in favour of extending the ban.
In the meantime, smoking seems to have declined generally: even the number of smokers in restaurants has fallen. Larger establishments either seat the few smokers in special fishtanks, or have created designated smoking areas.
But in mid-October, a parliamentary commission finally passed a bill that brings Spain into line with the European Union’s strictest anti-smoking nations and many US states that bar smoking in all enclosed public spaces.
The government is confident that it can have the new law approved by the Senate and on the statute books in time for January 2 — allowing the condemned one last smokin’ New Year’s Eve.
From a civil liberties perspective, the imposition of a Europe-wide ban on smoking is cause for concern. Firstly, it is an imposition; none of us have been consulted on the policy. And while the talk is of bans, what we are really saying is that smoking in public places, in bars and restaurants, is now illegal. So we’ve gone from measures aimed at protecting our health to a law that we can be prosecuted under if we don’t obey it. Little wonder that opponents of the smoking ban point out that it was the Nazis who pioneered the policy.
The current solution in Spain, whereby bars and restaurants decide if they wish to be either full-on smokers’ zones, or to designate areas for smokers, seemed a reasonable solution: it has worked by and large, and has prompted many establishments to install powerful extraction systems to reduce smoke in the atmosphere. The numbers of smokers has fallen, but those who continue to do so have not been made to feel like social pariahs.
But the new ban removes any element of a reasonable compromise. Under the new legislation it will not be possible even to open a private smokers’ bar or club. As things stand, it is quite possible at some point in the future for the state to move toward banning smoking in the street, then in the car, and then in the home.
The folly of prohibition
What is of particular concern is that these increasingly stringent moves on the part of governments to protect us from ourselves come at a time when other prohibitionist policies towards the consumption of illegal drugs have not only been manifestly shown not to work, but they have created far bigger problems than those they attempted to resolve in the first place.
The last three decades have seen the steady implementation of laws punishing drugs use. Back in 1991 marihuana consumption was recriminalized, as was that of other illegal substances in public. The result has been no reduction in drugs consumption, while the prison population has mushroomed, with around half of prisoners jailed over the last 20 years there for drugs-related offences.
The campaign to stop people smoking is driven by the same, questionable logic.
At the same time, the two main parties’ policies on smoking expose some interesting contradictions.
There is relatively little for the EU’s governments to do these days: they have no say in the running of the economy, and with the exception of the UK, they generally avoid foreign adventures. But they still have to be seen to be doing something, and social policy is the most visible way of achieving this. Spain’s Socialist Party government, which takes its lead from the UK’s increasingly intrusive state, understands this well. It simultaneously passes progressive legislation speeding up divorce, permitting same-sex marriage, and allowing abortion on demand, while toeing the EU’s repressive line on smoking and drugs.
The PP on the other hand, rails against the breakdown of society that the Socialist Party’s social policies are supposedly helping bring about, while its fundamentally conservative nature means that, paradoxically, it better reflects the tolerant attitudes that once made Spain, like other Mediterranean societies, so different; a difference in this case that is symbolized for the Romantics among us by the enduring appeal of a smoky bar.
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Published: Nov 10 2010
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
Short URL: http://iberosphere.com/?p=1634
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Tags: anti-smoking law, ley anti-tabaco, Partido Popular, popular party, Spain smoking, Spain smoking ban, Spain Socialist Party