Spain proposes total smoking ban in bars and restaurants

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The Independent Online

For many British tourists, the stench of strong tobacco is as synonymous with Spain as serrano ham and rioja wine. But they may soon say Adios to grey clouds hovering at Spain's infamously smoggy tapas bars and cafés with a ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces.

In 2006, the government introduced a partial ban that offered loopholes to the country's many tiny, family-owned eateries and bars. Now the Spanish health ministry has drafted a tougher law that cracks down on the entire dining-and-drinking scene, from multi-level discos to 10-seat bars. The Spanish parliament is expected to approve the ban this month, and it is expected to take effect in 2011.

"We non-smokers don't want to breathe second-hand smoke, and tourists increasingly want smoke-free spaces," the Health Minister, Trinidad Jimenez, told a parliamentary committee.

But bar and restaurant owners are pushing hard to block the total ban. They fear that restricting smoking could hurt their already-ailing sector and eventually cause precarious small businesses to close – a dire prospect in a country with 20 per cent unemployment.

"We understand that we are justifiably moving toward prohibition, but let's go slower – give us more time," Jose Luis Guerra, vice president of the national federation of bars and restaurants, told The Independent. He said a smoking ban would cause consumption to drop by 7 per cent in bars and 20 per cent in discos. "It's more than the straw that broke the camel's back: it's the heavy beam."

Medical associations and trade unions support the ban to protect the 1.25 million waiters, cooks and other service workers who inhale the second-hand smoke of their clients.