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Taking a stand

It's now over a week since the new Ley Antitabaco came into effect. Up until last Tuesday - the latest figures available, this being Spain - FACUA (the consumers' association) had received 1014 denuncias nationally, of which 246 were in Andalucia, with 142 of those in Malaga. In the first 24 hours alone, there were 300 complaints. Denuncias have also been made about people ignoring the law in hospitals and train and bus stations.The next lot of figures come out tomorrow, and will make interesting reading. The law is provoking massive debate, and conflict both verbal and physical. The general attitude seems to vary according to who you talk to. Predictably, lines are drawn by gender - women are delighted they can go for a coffee in a bar without coming out smelling like an ashtray, and subjecting their kids to passive smoking (one of the main driving forces behind the law was protection of minors), while men are deeply angry that their right to enjoy a fag with their morning coffee/brandy/lunchtime beer/afternoon coffee/after-work beer etc, has been viciously and mercilessly wrenched from them. It is this view of smoking being part of people's rights which was cited by the restaurant in Marbella, Asador Guadalmina in San Pedro Alcantara, when they publicly stated that they would not be obeying the law in their premises. The owner was quoted as saying he will allow people to smoke, unless a judge tells him otherwise, and also lamented the misuse of police time in enforcing the law (apparently they check for butts on the floor). A notice posted on the door of the restaurant said that "as a private business, we will uphold what we believe is our right, and not apply this law in our establishment." The dueño makes his political allegiances clear, expressing his view that the law is "a smokescreen created by our government to hide seven years of massive destruction in Spain." One thing you can say about democracy in this country, people make full use of their right to express themselves freely and openly, and say exactly what they mean without mincing their words. The Junta has already started proceedings against a bar owner in Cabra, Cordoba, who is refusing to stop customers from smoking, claiming that he has already lost 3,500 euros and will have to close if he continues to uphold the ban. Another bar owner, in Castellon, defended his "private business", while numerous fights have broken out, whether when bar owners have told customers to put out their cigarette, as was the case in Caceres, where the dueño sustained a head injury, or between customers on opposite sides of the debate. It is illegal not to display a no-smoking sign in your establishment, and to have a cigarette vending machine which doesn't have a remote control, to stop minors from using it. The attitude among those in the hostelry industry who oppose the ban, seems to be one of open rebellion. One comment on a website said, "This can be salvaged by the people with bar and restaurant owners leading, but only if they act in unison", and goes on to say that politicans, whom many claim were forced into making the law, will be hoping for non-compliance, along with the police. I have to agree that using up the (not-exactly-industrious) law enforcement's time when they should be catching real, violent criminals, or corrupt local politicians, does seem pretty bonkers. There are 100s of thousands of bars, cafes and restaurants to police. Many bar and restaurant owners will allow their customers to smoke, and to hell with the consequences - visits from police, denuncias from clients, and fines - allegedly up to 600,000 euros. There is even a page on FACUA's website where you can report an establishment for not obeying the new law. There are those, like the Marbella restaurateur, who claim that this is a cynical money-making exercise for a government in dire financial straits, and has less to do with saving the nation's health, that filling its coffers. The next debate here in Seville is over whether people will be able to smoke in the casetas at the Feria. On a regional level, the president of the Andalucia Hostelry Association has estimated that the ban will cost the industry 20,000 million euros. That's too many noughts for me to take in, but if he's anywhere near right - and let's remember that Andaluces love to exaggurate - it's a huge amount of money (and jobs) that, with our unemployment already at 25% in Andalucia, we can ill afford to lose. So surely it's about stopping people from smoking in the first place? Easier said that done, I know, but how about the government puts some welly into convincing smokers that IT KILLS THEM first?
Blog published on 10 January 2011