The smoking ban in Spain looks set to be a total ban. There will be no smoking permitted in any cafes or bars or restaurants after 1 Jan 2010. All this just two years after many restaurants had spent a lot of money creating separate smoking and non-smoking areas to conform to the current mild ban, which allows larger restaurants to have separate areas, and for small bars to choose to be smoking or non-smoking. Money wasted, it would seem.
I stopped off for a drink with my Spanish friend at El Gran Jaguar, a little street cafe with 5 or 6 tables and a few stools around the bar, and ashtrays on the tables. And mi amiga asked Stephanie, who worked behind the bar, whether she was at all worried about the total ban. She said she was very worried. And when she learned that I was English, she switched effortlessly from Spanish to English. She spoke animatedly and at length. She said that 80% of her customers were smokers, and if they couldn´t smoke in her cafe, theý’d stay at home. There were no tables outside her cafe: there was no space for any in the street outside.
I asked whether she had spoken to other cafe proprietors, and she said that they didn’t seem to be particularly bothered about the coming ban. I asked if there as any organisation of bar and cafe owners protesting about it. She said there was no organisation. "When do Spanish people ever organise about anything?" she asked.
She pointed to the large cigarette machine in one corner, controlled from behind the bar, and said that with fewer customers, she´d sell fewer cigarettes. She paid taxes on the machine, and was wondering whether it was worth keeping. If cafe proprietors got together and stopped paying their taxes on such machines, the government would lose a considerable income. It would hit them in their wallets where it hurt.
Stephanie’s mother joined us a little later, and confirmed what her daughter had been saying. She railed against the government trying to control everybody´s lives in all sorts of ways. She said she thought the government was trying to drive small cafes out of business.
El Gran Jaguar was the first cafe where I’ve enquired about the mood. And from this single sample, it would seem that the mood is one of deep unhappiness. But, just like in Britain, there is no organisation, no resistance. Or at least, not yet. I said that in Holland and Germany, similar bans had met with strong resistance, and had in many cases been reversed. Mi amiga also said that the existing mild ban was not enforced anyway, and if the latest strict ban as not enforced either, then it would be no more successful than the current ban.
With a few days more left in Spain, I’ll be making more enquiries to see whether Stephanie is alone in feeling deeply worried.
I suspect that she’s very far from being alone.