Barcelona Diary 3

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.

About Frank Davis

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5 Responses to Barcelona Diary 3

  1. Anonymous says:

    Spain is a good example of a European Country always trailing behind in the anti smoking league, but eventually catching up. I still remember joking in the 1980’s that Spanish cigarettes were not harmful because there was no health warning – eventually there was.
    I think it is a lot to do with the amount of smokers, which was allegedly still 40% when they introduced their smoking law on 1st January 2006. This may be an overestimate, but it is certainly significantly higher than the UK.
    I suspected something was afoot when cigarettes and tobacco went up phenomenally in June this year. Hand rolling tobacco was the worst. Amber Leaf and Cutters Choice almost doubled, from 24€ for 10x50g to 44€!
    You will notice I said their smoking law, not anti smoking law. To be honest, the present ‘law’ is more or less what we had in the UK for decades, ie, a sign asking you not to smoke in shopping malls, public transport etc.
    I anticipate with interest what will happen in places like Benidorm. Full of cabaret clubs modelled on the British Working mans Club concert room. 4 or 5 acts a night, commedians doing one hour spots where they smoke on stage. By the way, these sort of places never even bothered with the partitions.
    What kind of law will it be? Will the Spanish government finally try the punishment approach of fining peoprieters if they do not comply?
    I cannot see the holiday industry in places like Benidorm allowing a smoking law to destroy their livelyhoods. We will see.
    By the way, this is a bit of a shot in the foot for the Forest Save our Pubs and Clubs campaign, they will have to stop saying we should follow the Spanish model next year.

  2. Anonymous says:

    From Junican.
    I have just come back from Magalluf, Majorca (21st Nov). The hotel that my wife and I we have been using for the past 10 years, will, for the first time in its history, close for the months of Dec and Jan. The pub across the road, which used to close for the month of Jan (which was the staff holidays) closed on 14th Nov until March 1st 2010. I was told that our hotel had a clientel of a mere 80 persons in the week that we were there, which was obviously reasonably accurate from the breakfast/dinner attendance. The hotel has 450 rooms. At midnight, the streets were deserted.
    In Nov 2008, we went there and the resort was quite lively. In 2007, we went in Dec and it was still quite lively.
    Why has this sudden collapse occurred?
    Clearly, there is more than one reason. My thoughts would be as follows –
    1. The hotels had good times in the years, say, 2000 to 2006. They shoved their prices up significantly, taking advantage of cheap flights – airlines lost, hotels gained. This greed has now turned on them and bitten them in the arse. A friend who also goes to the same place said to me last spring, “The prices here are getting a bit steep, don’t you think?” It is noticeable that the hotel I speak of have frozen their prices for next year.
    2. Allied to the above and generally, the 20% fall in the value of the pound to the euro in the past couple of years (or even maybe 50% since, say, 2000).
    3. The bomb in Palmanova.
    4. The increase in cigarette and tobacco prices (as Anon mentioned). At this time, Benson & Hedges cost not an awful lot less that UK prices.
    If you attribute a 5% reduction in visitors for each of these factors, there is a 20% reduction overall. But the effect of the factors in not a simple ‘one off’ – it is more in the nature of an annual percentage decrease. Even if we disregard the annual nature of the effect, we can still see that a 20% reduction is very big. There are knock-on effects. The 20% becomes 30% when people find that their holiday is not as much fun as they expected. As a result, more bars close and so more people stay away, and so the vicious spiral takes over.
    Your observation, Frank, that there is no association of small bars in Barcelona is akin to the lack of initiative among the newsagents etc in this country, but what amazes me more than anything is that the big hotel chains in Spain (especially in Majorca) are not coming together and screaming blue murder about the proposed smoking laws. Also, the local authorities in Majorca must be really feeling the pinch. Fewer tourists means fewer tourists’ money entering the island and fewer tourists’ money staying in the island, therefore lower tax income and greater expense on unemployment benefits. Two of the employees of the pub which I mentioned above told me that for the first time in 6 years, they have had to ‘sign on’.
    One would hope that the experience of pub chains in this country would have found its way over the sea to Spain. The pub chains thought that a ‘level playing field’ would be OK but the reality is that all of them have lost masses of business.
    Is it possible that the hotel chains are making representations behind the scenes? Maybe, but I would not bet on it. It is in the nature of these beasts to cut their losses in Spain and open up more and more hotels in China and India where the authorities are not so stupid.

  3. Anonymous says:

    The Treaty enforcers – are hammering Spain for allowing the ‘Tobacco Industry’ (they no doubt include smokers and the hospitality trade in this) to join in the debate.
    The UK is going down the fags under the counter route now, banning vending machines and making specialist toboacco shops look like sex establishments from the outside.
    To them it is a closed shop, disagree and you have no place in the debate. Taxes to D of H, D of H budget to ASH and Cancer Research, Ash and CR to FCTC and the best bit is we’re all paying for this assault on the Spanish.
    This is fascism cum corporatism gone mad, no different from the taxpayer is being misled into underwriting highly leveraged private equity takeover loans gone bad and told it’s all down to US subprime (the passive smoking/MMGW of the financial system).

  4. Anonymous says:

    My mother lives in Benidorm and businesses there are closing at a rate of knots already. The blanket smoking ban on 1 January will certainly make matters even worse. The tourism industry in Benidorm has declined over the last couple of years and the smoking ban will further add to the economic woes of the town.
    When the smoking ban was first introduced there the cafe and bar owners were in an uproar about it and hence why the Spanish authorities amended the rules to allow smoking in some bars and restaurants. I’ve heard nothing about them complaining about the new rules yet and I will ask my mother what she might have heard on the grapevine about it.

  5. Anonymous says:
    Enjoy your cafes con leches Idlex – with warm weather too – that is the life!
    I see that resistance may be building even in Spain.

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