Office smokers of Madrid are allowed in from the cold

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The Independent Online

The temperatures in Madrid were hovering around freezing point this week, but this did not stop groups of shivering workers standing outside their office buildings puffing on their cigarettes.

Since Spain banned smoking in the workplace at the beginning of January, smoking in the street has become a common sight. One company estimated that workers leaving their desks to go outside to smoke was costing them an average of 25 minutes a day per worker. And smokers in 25-storey office buildings complain it takes them 15-20 minutes every time they go out for a quick smoke.

Spain is a country where bars, restaurants and offices have always been viewed through a haze of tobacco smoke and young people start to smoke in their early teens.

So it came as a shock when the Socialist government introduced legislation to ban smoking and the sale of cigarettes in most public places. Small bars and cafés can permit smoking if they display a notice in the window informing customers, but big hotels and restaurants are forced to provide a separate smoking area or stop customers smoking altogether. Smoking in cafés and bars in office buildings has been banned outright, hence the crowds standing in the cold.

But Madrid's autonomous government, led by Esperanza Aguirre - a critic of Spanish president Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero - has introduced legislation to allow smoking in restaurants and bars inside office buildings. In line with other venues, office buildings with bars of more than 100 square metres will have to provide a separate smoking area. Those under 100 square metres must ban smoking.

The new legislation also allows newspaper kiosks - and not just officially licenced tobacconists - to sell tobacco. The clause restricting the sale of cigarettes had been one of the most controversial aspect of the anti-smoking law.

Particularly hard hit were small village stores, which sell everything from groceries and tobacco to alcohol and lottery tickets, and newspaper kiosks which have always sold cigarettes along with their other goods.

"I think they are trying to put us out of business," complained one angry newspaper seller. "First they stopped us selling soft-porn magazines, then the anti-obesity clique said we couldn't sell sweets and chocolates because they make children fat, and now it is cigarettes. Lots of my regular customers buy a packet of cigarettes every morning with their newspaper. I certainly don't make enough money to live from the sale of papers and magazines."

He may well be right: the sales of cigarettes fell by 25 per cent the first week the law came into effect. The Hospital Carlos III reports that its nicotine addiction clinics are over-subscribed and the website is booming.

But two sectors which have benefited from the ban are the pharmaceutical and confectionery industries. Chemists report that the sales of nicotine patches increased by 166 percent in January, followed closely by nicotine chewing gum and other non-smoking props - although the manufacturers expect them to level off over the next few weeks.

There has also been a boom in Kojak lookalikes sucking on their lollipops. The Spanish company Chupa Chups say sales have increased by 25 per cent.