Spain’s anti-smoking laws head for the ash can

1 Apr

THERE are growing signs that Spain’s long-overdue legislation to curb the fag brigade is going up in smoke.

I suspected at the time the anti-smoking laws were tightened in January 2011 that tobacco-obsessed Spaniards would not observe it. And I’ve also been horrified recently that some Brits seem happy to risk a fine of up to €600,000 (as well as a horrendous death) by either smoking illegally themselves – or, in the case of some bar and business owners, allowing people to light up in enclosed bars, restaurants and even offices.

Clearly these people are playing with fire – both literally and metaphorically.

They don’t seem to realise it only takes one puffed-off colleague or customer to turn them in…and they could be relieved of every cent they own. At least, that’s what the law says.

Realistically, we all know that the Spanish police and bureaucrats are about as straight as Julian Clary and Alan Carr pairing up with the Kray twins on Strictly Kill Dancing. And since the protectors of the state smoke just as heavily as its citizens, the words ‘nudge nudge, wink wink, puff puff’ come to mind.

Last weekend, a friend and I sat in the glass-fronted dining area of an upmarket, sea-front restaurant (I’m not saying where) and ordered a late lunch.

Since the pullback roof was closed, we naturally we assumed the area was non-smoking. Until, that is, we noticed ashtrays on the tables. To add fire to the fuel, three members of a loud, ignorant group of Spaniards proceeded to manipulate a suspicious-looking substance into a trio of pathetically thin roll-ups and to set them alight. Within seconds, my pal and I were being passively poisoned via noise and nostrils combined.

“How come you allow smoking?’’ I asked a waiter. ‘’The room is closed in.’’ ‘‘It is permitted for people to smoke,’’ he countered, pointing to a tiny gap between the slats of the removable roof. (Well, he indicated a gap – though I couldn’t actually see it). “We have ventilation and air conditioning, so it is not a problem.’’

Now, either I have got it all wrong, or the law brought in on January 2, 2011, banned smoking in enclosed public places. In bars and restaurants the exception was to be establishments with a maximum of two walls or without a roof.

Since diners in this particular restaurant are visible to every passer-by, I can only assume that the police choose to ignore a seemingly blatant flouting of the law. Or maybe there’s some obscure small print which frees the restaurant management of compliance? There is, of course, another possibility…but I wouldn’t dream of suggesting anyone in Spain is corrupt.

Non-observance of the law is even worse in some places. A few days ago, for instance, a non-smoking friend went into a local Spanish bar for an early-morning coffee and was greeted by the sight of two Guardia Civil officers smoking away next to people eating breakfast. “It goes on all the time,’’ my pal assured me, adding: “Personally, I wish smoking was allowed in set smoking areas in bars but not in restaurants or eating areas.’’

Sounds to me like they don’t need a law for that…they’ve designated the smoking bit already. So much for the Spanish – what about the Brits who tell the legislators to go to blazes? The people who would not dare to defy the law in the UK, but seem to think it’s OK to bend the rules in Spain?

One publican admitted to me that when it’s cold, he takes a chance in the evenings by allowing smoking in the closed-in extension to his bar near Torrevieja. “I know I’m taking a risk,’’ he said. “But my customers want to smoke and I don’t want to send them out into the road.’’

On the contrary, I could give him 600,000 reasons why he SHOULD send them out into the road. I’m even more amazed by the smoker who lights up regularly in the open-plan office in which he works, just yards from his non-smoking boss and the entrance door.

Since smoke rises, the fumes drift to the office upstairs, not that the fumador is bothered. His defiance, despite the fact that the office’s few other addicts go outside to indulge their habit, astounds me as much as the fact that no one has made an issue of it. At least, not yet.

I just hope the person concerned sees the light before the law moves in. Or, worst-case scenario, a misplaced dog-end sets fire to the building and his boss suffers a fate worse than debt.

Published in The Courier ( March 30, 2012

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