Smoking in Spain
While some countries in Europe are starting to consider smoking an undesirable activity, Spain is going strong. Instead of signs marking that smoking is prohibited, many bars proudly advertise that their visitors can smoke. `Se permite fumar` (you are allowed to smoke) is a wide-spread message, even though it`s usually followed by several health warnings. I wonder why smoking is so popular, and what people will do if smoking gets banned from pubs and restaurants.
Xavier (21, photo) explains that people usually start smoking at an early age. He himself saw his mother smoke and started copying that behaviour by the time he found out that he was not supposed to do that. Xavier had his first cigarette at the age of 13, and found his way around legislation by buying from machines rather than shops. `Smoking is just the regular thing to do in Spain`, he explains, `It`s part of social life, and I simply like the taste of it.`
`An occasional joint is good for solidarity between people`
Xavier also cares to specify that he thinks marihuana and hash are less dangerous to people`s health than cigarettes. Cigarettes are more addictive and people keep smoking them all day, rather than once every few days. `An occasional joint is good for solidarity between people`, he adds.
Although many people claim to quit smoking next Monday very few do and only if they are forced to by external reasons. When they are too old to live on their own and move into a home for the elderly, when they get seriously ill, or for women: when they get pregnant. Ra?l (22) estimates that only half of the pregnant women actually manage to quit. He also highlights a difference in smoking behaviour with countries in the North of Europe. `Occasional smoking is more popular there`, he says, explaining that the number of smokers may be equal, but the frequency of lighting a cigarette is a lot higher in Spain. Spanish people smoke everywhere they can, including in cars with closed windows. Bus or train stops also conveniently serve as smoking breaks, even though there`s usually not enough time to finish even half a cigarette.
Ra?l can not explain why exactly Spain has so many smokers: `For Madrid, it must be the stressy life and otherwise it`s just copying role models, including parents.` He also adds that Spanish youth are fanatic in everything that is not allowed. Beside cigarettes, he estimates that about 50% of the youth smoke other substances. Many of those are imported from Africa and although selling them in shops is prohibited, most people know somebody who sells one or another relaxing herb.
Veronica (25) thinks that smoking bans only have little success in Spain. `Me, I don`t smoke, but I still think banning would not be a solution. As much as I have the right not to smoke, others should have the right to smoke if they want to`, she says. Right now, for any establishment with a surface of less than 100 square metres, the owner is instructed to mark whether the establishment allows smokers in, or is entirely non-smoking.
For large venues, Spanish law now imposes that a separation between smoking and non-smoking part be built. Smoking has been banned from public buildings and offices and is severely restricted in public transportation. Machines that were previously accessible to anybody are now equipped with age verification, ensuring that access to cigarettes is limited to those who are legally entitled to buy them. Bars are no longer allowed to sell tobacco. All previous licenses have recently been declared void. Only official tobacco shops are now entitled to sell cigarettes. Many discussions concentrate on whether venues like bull fighting arenas are considered open air (smoking allowed) or working space (smoking not allowed) or public place (smoking not allowed).
Ivan (19) thinks that, rather than expanding the smoking bans, proper education is the key to the solution: `Many people now start smoking by default, without being aware of the health dangers. Young people start smoking because they want to appear more grown-up, because that`s the sole association they make.`
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