We've now had about 6 weeks of Spain's tougher anti-smoking legislation, and it looks very much like this law is here to stay. Despite the predictions of widespread disobedience, it's now a regular sight in Madrid to see smokers standing on the street outside bars or restaurants and the law is being observed with very few exceptions. It's even been quite funny to read accounts of people who seem to have suddenly discovered the link between spending the night in a smoke filled bar and the smell of their clothes afterwards.
A significant part of why the law is succeeding comes from the fact that the noise being made by outraged smokers is out of all proportion to their weight in Spanish society. It's a widespread assumption outside of the country that almost every Spaniard smokes constantly, but it simply ain't true. Before the tougher law was introduced I'd already noticed a steady decline in the number of smokers in bars and concerts, and the new reality here is that most people are not smokers and are happy to be in places that are not full of smoke.
A lot of the opposition has come from bar and restaurant owners who fear a decline in their takings with smoking being banned. Now maybe I go to the wrong places but I've been enjoying nights out in Madrid in bars or restaurants that seem to be as busy as ever. Some restaurant owners were opportunist enough to start using the law as an excuse for firing employees as early as two days after it came into force! I know I've complained before about the short termism of Spanish employers but even so.
The new legislation has also created a very unappealing martyr for the cause of smokers liberty. The owner of a restaurant in Marbella openly defied the law from the beginning and has finally been forced to shut the place down or obey the law on the orders of Andalucia's regional government. Marbella is of course a place where respect for the law could hardly be said to be a well-established tradition. In this particular case the restaurant owner has become a hero for the likes of Intereconomía because of his insistence that nobody should be allowed to eat a steak unless there is someone blowing tobacco smoke across it. His arrogant "I do what I feel like doing" attitude is nicely topped by his thoroughly balanced description of the government as being Marxist and terrorist. He has deservedly won his very own Twitter hashtag, #eltontodelasador.
The requirements of opposition to everything the government does leads many Partido Popular supporters to talk about how we now live in a dictatorship where nobody is allowed to do anything. Funnily enough I don't think their party has presented any proposal to change the law when they come to power. Things can really get a bit ridiculous, I was in a shop last week where the owner was talking about a fire that was raging in a nearby building. On hearing the word smoke, the customer in front of me launched into the "dictatorship" diatribe for all the world as if a house fire was just a minor distraction. I felt like suggesting it could have been started by a smoker but I showed commendable restraint. After all, you have to feel sorry for people who are now only allowed to smoke, er, almost everywhere.
Nor should we forget the contribution which some politicans and smokers themselves made to the toughening of the legislation. It wouldn't do at all not to acknowledge the role played by that crusader for individual liberty, Esperanza Aguirre. It was her decision to defy the previous law that meant it went virtually unenforced in Madrid. Under that legislation nobody should have been smoking at all in a concert venue but once she made it clear that the law wouldn't be enforced then smokers felt free to do what they wanted. I went to a concert a few weeks before Christmas in Madrid where it was written very clearly in large print on the ticket that the band respectfully requested those attending not to smoke during their performance. The result was, predictably, that nobody took any notice. Is it any wonder, given such arrogant selfishness and unwillingness to think of others, that the previous law had to be hardened?