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Spain set to banish smoking in bars, cafés

Restaurateurs wary of backlash

Spain is among Europe’s last remaining countries where patrons can smoke freely in restaurants. Spain is among Europe’s last remaining countries where patrons can smoke freely in restaurants. (Emilio Morenatti/ Associated Press)
By Ciaran Giles
Associated Press / October 21, 2010

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MADRID — Spain, famed for its smoke-filled bars, corner cafés, and restaurants, set the stage yesterday for a tough new antismoking law that will rid the country of its status as one of Western Europe’s easiest places to light up.

The bill passed by parliamentary commission calls for transforming all bars and restaurants into no-smoking zones, bringing Spain into line with the European Union’s strictest antismoking nations and many US states that bar smoking in enclosed public places.

It is expected to pass the Senate and become law on Jan. 2.

The law also will make Spain a tougher place to smoke than many other European countries, where bars and restaurants are still allowed to have smoking sections, and will prohibit smoking in outdoor places such as playgrounds and the grounds of schools and hospitals.

The current law in place since 2006 prohibits smoking in the workplace, and workers puffing away just outside their office buildings are a common sight.

But that law permitted owners of most bars and cafés to decide on their own whether to allow smoking — and almost all ended up doing so, leading critics to label the earlier law as a failure.

Those bar and café owners will now lose the privilege, and larger restaurants that still have smoking sections will have to get rid of them. Officials predict thousands of lives now lost to secondhand smoke will be saved.

“I think the new law is good, especially if it helps us keep healthy,’’ said Puri De Arcos, 33, as she puffed away in a park square. “But I think it is too radical, banning smoking in discos, for example.’’

Bar and restaurant owners hoped to win an exception in the law allowing them to construct hermetically sealed smoking sections, but the parliamentary commission voted down that option. Hotels will be allowed to set aside 30 percent of the rooms for smokers.

The bill endorsed by Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and his governing Socialist Party goes next for debate in the Senate, where it is likely to be approved quickly or sent back with minor changes for approval in the lower house.

One of the few concessions that the law’s opponents got was a pledge by the government for the law to take effect on Jan. 2 — instead of a day earlier, the peak of Spain’s weeklong spell of Christmas and New Year’s festivities that draw huge crowds of Spaniards to bars and restaurants.

Salvador Chacon, a smoker who owns a small bar, expects to lose business because so many of his regulars come every day for beers and tapas and often pass the hours drinking and smoking with their friends.

Chacon said many others also fear Spain could lose crucial tourism revenue because it is among the last European nations where travelers are free to smoke in restaurants — after sampling Spain’s renowned food and tapas, almost always washed down with Spanish wine or half-sized draft beers called “cañas.’’

“The rest of Europe doesn’t have the charming tradition of cañas and tapas. It’s our way of life and it’s also what tourists look for,’’ Chacon said.

Spain’s main restaurant and bar federation predicted the law will lead to 145,000 lost jobs and a 10 percent decline in revenue for the sector, but the Health Ministry said similar laws put in place in recent years in nations ranging from Britain to France and Italy did not hurt business badly.

Health Minister Trinidad Jiménez noted that smokers will still be allowed to smoke on the open-air terraces of bars, and many Spanish bars have them, often setting up tables and chairs on the sidewalk. Other exceptions were provided for jails, psychiatric institutions, and retirement homes.

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