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Thursday, 6 August 2009

The social life of a Briton is great… Spain

Having just returned from a week in Andalucía,I am on the one hand in good spirits from having normal nights out once again. On the other hand of course having to return to Blighty brings fresh despair and prompts further head shaking each time I pass a pub or restaurant.

So for the sake of my sanity, indulge me while I let my mind drift back to land of Sun, San Gria, and smoker-friendliness, and report on how choice works in practice.

As the EU ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, members states effectively have to become are signatories. Only 2 have managed to avoid it thus far. The proclaimed main aim being to “protect present and future generations from the devastating health, social, environmental and economic consequences of tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke." Or in practice to cause present and future generations stress, social isolation, and economic hardship.

But each country can interpret the official line with a degree of flexibility.
The result has exposed the levels of paternalism in Governments and the varied influence of the pharma/health lobby across the member states.

We have the extreme blanket smoking bans in Italy and the UK. The Italian Health Minister responsible for their ban, subsequently found to have been bribed, and was prosecuted. Of course though the law stayed intact unquestioned.

Our lovely UK Government instead, paid health charities to lobby hard for a law they otherwise would never have been able to implement.

In most of Europe however, we see that instead of proscribing lifestyles to adults they seem more genuine in attempting to restrict access to tobacco to adults, and exposure to smoking is a simple matter of choice. Those who want to avoid indoor smoking can avoid it very easily if they choose.

In Spain you can only purchase Tobacco (and lottery tickets) in licensed Tobacconists, and from remote controlled vending machines in licensed premises. But, you can smoke inside licensed premises if the owner decides they wish to allow it.
Hardly an unreasonable concept is it. Go into an adult only environment to buy a legal product, and then, shockingly, be allowed to consume it with the proprietor’s consent.

Now I still think the restrictions on selling tobacco are over the top, and probably economically damaging (my Spanish is still too limited to have asked newsagents/small shop owners, without it being misinterpreted). At least though the Spanish are more honest about their intentions, in genuinely seeking restricting tobacco consumption to adults.

You can though, still buy enough alcohol to kill you at one sitting in a single trip to a supermarket. To achieve the same swift demise with Tobacco you would have to buy an amount big enough set fire to and cremate yourself. And even then, these days the stuff isn’t allowed to stay alight long enough for you to raise so much as a blister.

More honest and more respectful to adults, is how I would describe the Spanish legislation. To be an FCTC signatory you do have to impose some restrictions. The Spanish mindful of civil liberties and of course recognition of preserving a thriving tourist trade, have seemingly struck a balance most can live with.

At the entrance to a bar or restaurant, you will be met with a blue sign if smoking is permitted and the all too familiar (to us in Blighty) red one, if it is not. Larger venues will have two separate entrances marked the same way, indicating the appropriate part of the building. Every place I visited had ventilation and air conditioning. So you remain cool in the heat, and not one smoking venue I visited was smoky enough for any smoke-averse arm waving or fake coughing.
This all seemed rather sane to me. And the only time the old brain box was disdainfully shaken was as to question for the life of me why it can’t be like this at home.
One answer to my incredulity was all too forthcoming when I glanced into the non-smoking rooms, and having earlier approached the entrance to a Chinese restaurant, only to be greeted by the dreaded red sign of doom: They were virtually empty!

I could see why the Antis here(apart from just being vicious and evil) fought so hard for a blanket ban.
Allow choice, and the ‘popularity’ for smoking deprived hospitality disappears along with the inevitable closures denying it would create.
Popularity, that was the other thing that struck a chord with me. Several of the bars were owned by and frequented by 95% ex-pats and their visiting friends and family.

Why is it that we are told in the UK how wonderful going out is since the ban, and that it’s the best thing since indoor toilets, overwhelmingly popular,
yet we don’t demand the same in Spain? Why don’t bar owners grab the same opportunity afforded to them to attract a vast new customer base desperate to leave their hotel rooms and villas for an evening in a smokerless haven of hospitality?

Why don’t the Spanish bars, after hearing how popular the ban is in neighbouring France,and being told on BBC World how wonderful ‘clean-air’ pubs are, instantly kick the smokers outside, and reap the rewards?
I wonder!
I must check my Spanish dictionary.
Perhaps the reports from UK were poorly translated.‘Popularity’ became ‘compliance’. ‘Customer –friendly ban’ became ‘customer-free ban’.
Or more likely they know bullshit when they hear it.

No doubt the anti-tobacco industry is upset with Spain and will look to turn the screw.
Lucky for freedom lovers they will have a fight on their hands. The Spanish are made of sterner and wiser stuff than some of their northern neighbours.
And as a result, my social life is about to improve this winter.

I’ll gladly trade 3 months stood in the cold and wet for 3 or 4 weekends feeling warm and welcome.

Adios Amigos.


Barking Spider said...

It sounds idyllic to me - I hope Cameron has the sense to do that next year.

The witch from Essex said...

Trouble is that Spain is now 'considering' abnning smoking in ALL public places including bars !!

The health minister Trinidad Jimenez is proposing an extension to the anti smoking Act to include all bars and restaurants.

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