For ages, the people of Spain have enjoyed the right to smoke freely. But in line with many other European countries, Spain is hoping to discourage smoking by introducing a new tobacco law. As of 1 January, it is no longer allowed to light a cigarette inside public buildings, such as offices and bars. Smoking outside is the only option that remains. Two students from Spain share their views – one with a cigarette in her hand, one without.
Erasmus students Ana Garrido and Laura Batlle are sitting at the table in the big kitchen of the IPO building at the Binnenhaven. Despite a ‘no smoking’ sign hanging above the fridge, there’s an ashtray half full with Lucky Strike filters in front of them. ‘I don’t mind Laura smoking here,’ says Ana. Neither do the rest of her housemates.
Ana and Laura were in Spain around the time the law changed. ‘It was a hot topic. Especially because of the sudden change from one day to another,’ says Ana.
Television crews followed people on the last days before the law was implemented, filming what they were doing and thinking. ‘On December 31st, everybody was smoking continuously,’ Laura says. ‘They were anxious about what would happen. The biggest question was where people could smoke and where they couldn’t.’
‘Bars bigger than a hundred square metres are now obligated to be smoking free or at least to have special areas. But smaller bars may choose,’ explains Ana. ‘Some pubs made surveys to ask customers what they wanted. This resulted in the majority of the bars choosing not to prohibit smoking.’ Laura: ‘I could still smoke in all the pubs after January 1st.’
Besides bars, Spanish people are now not allowed to smoke inside office buildings. In general, people have found it difficult not to give in to their nicotine craving while at work. ‘Suddenly they had to go for hours without cigarettes, until their next break,’ says Laura.
In contrast to the Netherlands, there are no special smoking areas. People have to go out and smoke in the street. ‘In Madrid there are many high buildings. People from the highest floors lose lots of time going down to the street,’ Ana says.
The law should help people quit smoking. ‘Many workplaces even offer therapy,’ tells Ana. But non-smoker Ana thinks that it will be difficult. ‘When I am drinking in a disco, I smoke a cigarette sometimes. If it is difficult even for me, how will it be for smokers?’ ‘It will be good,’ replies Laura. The warning signs on the packages about diseases and death have not held her back from smoking. ‘I read that it kills me. “Okay,” I say and light one. But with every cigarette I wonder what I am doing.’ She thinks the law will give her an extra push to quit smoking.
Laura brought cigarettes from Spain, as they are extremely expensive in the Netherlands. In Spain, cigarettes have even become cheaper since the law came into effect. The tobacco industry is no longer allowed to advertise, and the age of people allowed to buy cigarettes went up to sixteen and there has been a reduction in sales points. ‘The industry just doesn’t want this law and is trying to increase sales by reducing the prices,’ Laura says.
About one third of the Spanish population smokes. However, attitudes are changing Ana and Laura say. ‘Before, young people started smoking because they wanted to be cool and try things. But instead of being cool, smoking is becoming more of a bad thing.’
Although Ana likes not being a passive smoker anymore when in Spain, she does think the law should be less restrictive. ‘There should be separate rooms or a certain number of cigarettes per day allowed. That would prevent stress.’ Laura nods. ‘People are not used to it. They want their coffee and a cigarette – that’s the Spanish way of taking it easy.’
For the two women the change makes it clear that Spain is becoming a European country. ‘It is the changing policy in general, the public spirit. Everything is getting stricter with fines. Before, police just told you to go somewhere else if you did something small which wasn’t allowed. Now you have to show your ID.’