Madrid - When Spain toughened anti-smoking legislation in 2006, the measure was hailed as an important step forward in the battle against addiction in the country formerly known as a “smokers’ paradise.”Three and half years later, however, smoke is again floating in bars, restaurants, and even some places of work, prompting the government to consider stricter legislation.
The current law bans smoking at work and in public places such as hospitals, schools or shopping centres.
Owners of bars or restaurants measuring less than 100 square metres, however, may allow smoking. Those make up about 80 per cent of the total of such establishments.
Bigger venues must have separate smoking areas if they allow smoking.
In practice, only around 40,000 of Spain’s more than 350,000 leisure establishments have created smoking areas or banned smoking.
Even at places of work, smoking has not been entirely eliminated.
The anti-smoking law is not applied fully in some regions. Those do not carry out inspections, do not apply sanctions, or have watered the law down with their own decrees, according to press reports.
The 2006 law has been “beneficial,” but it has “gaps” and is not clear enough, Health Minister Trinidad Jimenez said.
The positive effects of the law could be observed in 2006, when the number of heart attacks went down by about 10 per cent.
One million Spaniards are estimated to have stopped smoking since the law entered into force.
Now, however, the amount of smokers has stabilized at around 24 per cent of the population.
Smoking is Spain’s top public health problem, causing more than 50,000 deaths annually, according to the national anti-smoking committee CNPT.
The way forward is to align Spain’s legislation with that of many other European countries, introducing a smoking ban in all public places, Jimenez believes.
The law would include measures aimed at making sure that regional authorities apply it correctly, according to Health Ministry sources.
Parliament recently called on the government to gradually increase the number of smoke-free public places.
Health professionals have long urged a total ban, but restaurant, bar and hotel owners fear loss of income.
“People come to bars to drink, talk and smoke,” said Jordi Vila, a client at a Barcelona bar. “Trying to regulate everything, including private lives, is dangerous and causes problems.”
It is not necessary to change the law to protect the health of non-smokers, the hoteliers’ association Cehat said, arguing that it was sufficient to force the full application of the current law.
The government and health professionals dismiss such arguments and stress that strict smoking bans have not caused business losses or social conflicts in other countries.
A ban would save some 1,000 employees of bars, restaurants, discotheques and other leisure establishments from cancer-related deaths annually, oncologist Esteve Fernandez said.
About 70 per cent of Spaniards back a total ban, Jimenez said. The smokers’ association Club for Tolerance, however, disputed the reliability of such polls.
© Copyright: 29 Aug 2009 Earthtimes