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Spain's cafe smokers take last few puffs

Patrons of Spain's infamously smoke-clogged cafes, bars and clubs are drawing their last few puffs.



Lawmakers have voted to scrap Spain's extraordinarily lax anti-tobacco legislation from January next year and replace it with one of the toughest smoking bans in Western Europe.

In a land where people light up pretty much at will in restaurants, bars, nightclubs and offices, it is a daunting prospect for both smokers and their regular haunts, many suffering in the economic crisis.

On a bright afternoon at a terrace cafe in central Madrid, 30-year-old Noemi Campos savoured one more cigarette, not relishing the prospect of a New Year without a nicotine fix to accompany her drink.

"We will only be able to smoke at home," Campos said.

"If the ban comes into force in January, I will be quicker when I go to the bar and obviously consume less."

For now, the loopholes are so large in Spain's smoking legislation that many people barely give them a thought.

The law, introduced in 2006, allows establishments smaller than 100 square meters (1,100 square feet) to choose whether they want to be smoking or non-smoking; most allow smoking.

Bigger businesses have to set up a non-smoking zone if they want to cater for smokers, but in practice many people light up where they want.

The result is a familiar haze and scent of tobacco, including the throat-rasping black tobacco of cigarettes such as Ducados.

The new law was approved by lawmakers in the Congress of Deputies, the lower parliamentary chamber, on Wednesday. It is almost certain to be approved by the Senate and come into force January 2 - giving people a last cigarette in bars and clubs on New Year's Day.

It is likely to be a rude shock for some.

The new law bans smoking from all enclosed public spaces and spaces of common useage. It even outlaws smoking in some open spaces such as children's parks and near hospitals.

Smokers For Tolerance Club spokesman Javier Blanco Urgoiti said it was the toughest anti-smoking law in the Europe Union, and the first in the region to proscribe smoking in the open air.

Restaurateurs are also concerned.

Spanish Hospitality Federation vice president Jose Luis Guerra said the restrictions could provoke a sales decline of seven percent for restaurants, 10 percent for bars and 15 percent for night clubs.

"We are already living in tough times. We cannot afford to lose even a single job," he said.

One of the key aims of the new rules is to protect passive smokers such as waiters and waitresses.

Fernando Heredia, who has worked for two years as a waiter at the Los Jimenez restaurant in central Madrid, said 80 percent of people smoked as they drank their coffee or beer.

But for Heredia, the fear of losing his job is greater than the fear of the smoke. "I don't smoke so on the health side it is good," he said. "But if it loses us customers I would rather carry on being a passive smoker."

In Spain, passive smoking is believed to be responsible for the deaths of 1,500 to 3,000 people a year.

But not everyone welcomes the state's help.

"Look, I can take care of my own health," said Ivan Chouza, 25-year-old waiter at the fashionable Lilith Cafe in Madrid.

Next door, at the Outlet bar, 22-year-old waiter Amine Shriyer said he totally agreed with the new law, and he hoped it would help him to stop smoking.

But he added: "It is going to create problems because people are going to drink and forget they are not supposed to smoke.

"And it is going to mean a lot of noise for the neighbours."