Disconsolate Spanish smokers driven out into blizzard
Our man reports from the tierra del cigarrillo frío
Glum Spanish smokers have resigned themselves to the idea that the taking of tobacco will in future be done on the street, as a ban on smoking in public places came into force on 2 January.
Initial reaction to the clampdown was predictable enough, with one customer of my local bar declaring on Sunday morning the government could "shove its ban up its fu*king arse" as he contemplated the morning coffee he'd either have to quaff without the traditional accompanying gasper or hit the 'nad-freezing terrace for his caffeine/nicotine fix.
It's now an offence to light up in enclosed public spaces, in close proximity to kids' playgrounds, in airports and anywhere in hospital grounds.
Mercifully for bullfighting aficionados, they can still enjoy a cigar in the arena, as can football fans, as long as the stadium has an open roof.
Prisons are also exempt from the ban, prompting another local to quip that he'd have greater freedom to hit the cancer sticks if he clubbed to death the idiots who pushed through the anti-tobacco law in the first place.
Moaning aside, there are some with genuine cause for complaint. A few years back, all restaurants and bars over 100m2 were obliged to create dedicated smokers' areas, at not inconsiderable cost.
Owners of such premises are a mite irritated that they'll get no compensation for this ultimately unnecessary expenditure. One Malaga restaurant has declared it will defy the ban in protest, although with fines ranging from €30 for a first offence and €100,000 for serial offenders*, it's doubtful it can resist for long.
Indeed, as of yesterday, the government's anonymous grass-a-smoker scheme had received over 300 tip-offs. The police are apparently still working on just how they're supposed to deal with these, but no doubt lightning raids by dedicated teams of snout-busting officers backed by sniffer dogs are just a matter of time.
As a Brit, I've long since got used to nipping outside the pub for a quick smoke, although the idea of fume-free Spanish hostelries will take a bit of getting used to.
On Sunday, I lasted about five minutes with my café con leche before braving the winter chill for a ciggie, having been struck by the sudden desire to escape the sound of thundering fellow smokers railing against the injustice of it all.
In the event, even the icy outdoors provided no sanctuary from the anti-tobacco crusade. As I gratefully whipped out cigarettes and lighter, a passing chap with an irritating smirk across his smug face availed himself of the opportunity he'd obviously waited years for.
"So," he chortled, "now you're going to give yourself lung cancer and pneumonia."
Having considered momentarily whether to engage in an intelligent and lively debate with the Fagfinder General, I decided instead to sum up the mood on that frosty January morning by inviting him to "piss off". ®
*The €30 first offence fine is for private individuals. Owners who fail to enforce the ban on their premises face a fine of €601 – €100,000, according to El País.