With the start of 2008, France has joined Italy and Ireland in a complete ban to smoking in restaurants and bars. Thankfully they have not followed the smoking regulation model started in Spain, which gives small bar/restaurant owners the choice of becoming a smoking or a non-smoking space.
Smoking bans are always perceived differently from two different points of view: the health point of view and the ‘comfort’ (or annoyance) point of view.
Taking health into account, and according to the law itself, the goal of smoking bans is to reduce tobacco consumption to reduce health risks, and to reduce exposure of workers to tobacco smoke. (It can be argued whether smoking is really a health risk or not, although I believe it is). The smoking ban in workplaces (introduced in Spain only in January 2006) is aimed at protecting workers from tobacco smoke of their smoker co-workers. This measure was long overdue in Spain and we can finally enjoy smoke-free office workspaces. However, bar and restaurant workers are not as lucky: the Spanish law does not protect them, as it makes each business decide: smoke-free or not. This ambiguous law looks after some workers while ignoring others.
From the point of view of ‘comfort’, a large part of society would be happier with smoke-free environments simply because the absence of smoke means absence of bad smell in the air and in one’s clothes. Obviously, people are free to stay away from tobacco-friendly bars and restaurants, but the Spanish law has not helped to create smoke-free spaces.
Because in Spain going smoke-free is optional for small bars and restaurants, some of them choose to stay smoke-friendly, to ensure they won’t loose smoking customers to the bar next door, which may have chosen to stay smoke-friendly. It is a matter of competition. It is natural that an optional measure like this one drives the vast majority of bars and restaurants to choose the option which does not damage their business. Should the law impose a smoking ban on all bars and restaurants, the regulation would be equal for all businesses, enabling fair competition, since none can allow smoking in their premises. Obviously, if smoking is allowed everywhere, competition would be equally fair, but this would mean failure for the Spanish tobacco law, which intends to curb tobacco consumption in workplaces, not keep it up.
However, what about the people who cannot go without their cigarette when having their coffee? Or can they?
The “cafe culture” in France, claimed to be under attack by the new smoking ban, is not unique to France. It is equally popular in Spain, Italy or Ireland. The two latter have banned smoking, causing no impact on the “cafe culture”. I am certain that France will experience equal adaptation to the smoking ban, and people will continue to have their coffee, but without the smoke.
Congratulations to the French. Spain should follow suit, and implement a proper smoking ban on all restaurants and bars. The current tobacco laws in Spain smell of half-baked compromise to implement the health protection measures in bars, while avoiding aggravating smokers. Experience in Italy, Ireland and also in the U.S. shows that the ban on smoking causes no aggravation, and is even welcome by many smokers.