This Europe: Cigarette-loving Spaniards urged to stub out the habit

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The Independent Online

Smoking has long been almost obligatory in Spain. It has the cheapest tobacco in Europe and the highest proportion (47.2 per cent) of men who smoke. Male smoking has declined in recent years, but increasing numbers of women light up.

Smoking has long been almost obligatory in Spain. It has the cheapest tobacco in Europe and the highest proportion (47.2 per cent) of men who smoke. Male smoking has declined in recent years, but increasing numbers of women light up.

Horrified by resultant ravages to health, Spain's government announced a plan, stiffened by fines, to stub out smoking at work and in public buildings by 2007. Tobacco is blamed for 20 per cent of Spain's avoidable deaths. Packets warn that smoking damages an unborn child, but 57 per cent cent of women smokers puff away throughout pregnancy, and 16 per cent who give up resume after childbirth.

The measures seek to transform the nation's habits. Stop a stranger with a request for a cigarette and it will be offered willingly. Until this week you could buy cigarettes singly, or send a 16-year-old for one. If you ask your taxi driver to extinguish his cigar, he may counter that it's his right to smoke in his own vehicle and invite you to hire a non-smoking taxi. A colleague who wanders into my office and puffs his pipe while relating some lively tale is wounded and uncomprending when I say the fumes make me ill.

Spain's love of tobacco has deep roots. They range from the conquest of America and a state monopoly that supplied cigars and snuff to the world, to the legacy of Franco. Youngsters tasting democracy in the Seventies marched for the freedom to drink all night, snog in the street and – especially for young women – smoke in public. Inspired initially by slender role models such as Audrey Hepburn and Juliet Greco (Franco's dictatorship delayed for decades the arrival of everything modern) Spanish women still think smoking is liberating. More liberating would be to step into a lift free of gesticulating cigar smokers.

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