MADRID—Spain, a country famed for its smoke-filled bars, corner cafes and restaurants, is poised to enact a tough new anti-smoking law Wednesday, eliminating its status as Western Europe’s last country where lighting up in indoor public places is allowed.
The bill to be approved by a parliament commission Wednesday amends one from 2006 and brings Spain in line with the rest of the European Union—although it takes it even further by prohibiting smoking in certain outdoor areas as well.
The current law prohibits smoking in the workplace but permits it in bars of less than 1,100 square feet (100 square meters) and in restaurants with larger floor spaces that have specially adapted areas.
In practice, smoking has disappeared from inside offices and factories in Spain but it has been permitted in almost every bar and restaurant in the country leading to claims that the legislation was a failure.
“I think the new law is good, especially if it helps us keep healthy,” said Puri De Arcos, 33, as she puffed away in a park square. “But I think it is too radical, banning smoking in discos, for example.”
Hotels will be allowed to set aside up to 30 percent of their rooms for smokers. But the habit will be banned from outside hospitals and schools and in children’s playgrounds.
The restaurant and bar sector says the new measure will lead to some 145,000 job losses and a 10 percent drop in income.
“This bill, like the current one, will ruin the sector,” said federation president Jose Maria Rubio.
But the Health Ministry said similar bills in other countries did not lead to major job losses, bar closures or income cuts.
The commission also rejected a demand by the federation to allow them to install specially isolated rooms for smokers within their premises, as most EU countries do.
“The prohibition is going to have a big effect,” said small bar Madrid owner and smoker Salvador Chacon, 34.
“It’s as if this was becoming a dictatorship.”
Once approved Wednesday, the legislation will then go for debate in the Senate. If the upper house introduces any changes, the bill must then go back to the lower house for final approval. The government hopes to have it in force by Jan. 2, 2011.
Chacon and others argue the bill could affect the key money earner of tourism given that Spain was the last country where holiday makers could go and feel free to smoke while they tasted finger snacks in a bar or ate in a restaurant.
“The rest of Europe hasn’t got the charming tradition of small beers and tapas. It’s out way of life and it’s also what tourists look for,” said Chacon.
But outgoing Health Minister Trinidad Jimenez said all was not lost for puffing drinkers as smoking will be allowed in the open-air terraces of bars.
“I don’t smoke but I welcome this law,” said 44-year-old Miguel Gonzalez as he sat in a Madrid bar.
“Given the time I have spent in this bar, I think I’m more of a smoker than a real smoker.”
The National Committee for the Prevention of Smoking says up to 1,000 Spanish bar waiters die yearly from lung cancer.
Key exceptions to the bill will be jails, and certain areas in psychiatric institutions and retirees homes.