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Spain has recently followed the example of several other European countries, enacting a new smoking law that regulated the public use of tobacco. On January 2 this year, smoking in public areas including open spaces close to hospitals, schools and parks became limited. Similar laws were already put in place in Ireland in 2004 and in Scotland in 2006.
However, the law has been long under way in Spain due to the fact that it is one of the countries in Europe with the highest population of smokers. For that reason, the legislation so far has been more permissive than elsewhere – but that has now changed.
The smoking act has always been highly controversial in Spain. When the government in 2006 introduced new rules that demanded hotels and pubs to divide their business areas into smoking and non-smoking sections, it was reported that business took a hit. Those who were unable to allow its guests to smoke inside the establishment lost around 23% profit and a large amount of regulars.
At the same time, in the interest of public health, the Spanish government are continuously raising the tax on tobacco. The price has equally increased with up to 300% in the last decade.
These are around 10 million smokers in Spain which makes the laws on tobacco a sore subject between them and the local government. Protests have been held against the new act and several arguments have been put forward on behalf of the smoking community. The consequence of smoking outside the designated areas is a fine which is taxed at €30-600 ($42-834).
When you look at some of the other arguments against the new law, you will find a strong voice from the residents around affected pubs and social areas. In accordance with the new smoking act, pubs and restaurants are obliged to set up ashtrays and heaters outside their building for patrons to comfortably be able to smoke while they are being served.
As a consequence, the neighbors living in the surrounding area gets highly affected by noise pollution. Every night of business means a crowd of guests, being loud in the open while they enjoy a good time with their friends. However, this is becoming an increased nuisance to residents. Patricia Sánchez is one of the people affected by this situation “I cannot imagine how this will be in the summer, because now it is cold and not too many people stay outside. But in summer I won´t be able to sleep with all those people in the street.”
Another side effect of the outdoor smoking is the rubbish left behind – glass and cigarette butts are scattered in the vicinity of the pubs.
There are differences between the effect on the hotel business and that of pubs and restaurants. The law allows hotels and tourist businesses to have up to 30% of their rooms able to accommodate smokers. On the other hand, pubs and restaurants are working with much stricter regulations. If found guilty of violating the laws on a smoke-free indoor environment, the owners of the businesses are subjected to a fine depending on the seriousness of the infraction.
Similar initiatives are on the way on the other side of the Atlantic in New York where the local authorities are preparing to ban smoking in places such as the pedestrian mall in Times Square and on the boardwalk and beach of Coney Island. Violations will trigger a $50 fine.
The city of New York already bans smoking in bars and restaurants, a move that was followed by scores of other cities in the US. Additionally, the smokers in New York pay the highest tax on tobacco in the entire nation, namely $5.85 pr. pack.
With the introduction of the new rules, smokers are prohibited from smoking in the city’s 1.700 parks and on the 14 miles of beach area. Furthermore, the ‘pedestrian plazas’ located in the middle of roadways will also be included in the no-smoking ban as they often contain benches, tables or other facilities for pedestrian use.
Audrey Silk, the founder of a local public interest group called NYC C.L.A.S.H. (Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment), says she will not be surprised if smokers in the city ignore the new prohibition. “This is outrageous and uncalled for,” she claims.