Spanish Smoking Ban

A proper smoking ban has finally been introduced in Spain and you now can’t smoke in any enclosed spaces in the country. This replaces the smoking ban introduced a few years back where you could smoke in a local over 83.4 m2 if it had an open window in the west corner which was south facing with views of the terrace next to the toilet but only on the third Thursday of the month in a properly conditioned area. Now you just can’t. No, no, no.

Spanish Smoking Ban Donostia-San Sebastian

Seeing a lot of this at the moment!

I say now, cause I´m writing this on the 12th of January and not on the 1st. Cause on the 1st you kinda could smoke, just in case you lit up on the 31st and the cigarette was still lit after the bells. Then maybe you could smoke a bit in the 2nd then a bit less on the 3rd at a push, but now no, no, no.

The previous smoking law allowed smoking in properly conditions areas separated from the non smoking areas of the restaurant/bar/pub. You must be delighted if you are a bar or restaurant owner who spent large sums of money on upgrading your establishment to comply with the new smoking laws only for the government to give up 6 years later and just ban it outright.

Except…there are bars resisting. They’re even advertising the fact that they are defying the ban, with big notices at the door permitting smoking. And they are getting great coverage on all national TV stations. In the short term this must bring them in some good business, but you have to think that in the long term it´s not such a great idea to broadcast the fact that your business is involved in illegal activity on national telly. Especially with fines of up to 600,000€ being threatened.

There is a sense of desperate futility about much of the resistance. In interviews they seem ready to take on the establishment, to defy this unjust law that oppresses the rights of the people. Their bravura is infectious, I´m almost ready to sign their petitions and stand shoulder to shoulder with them. Even to drop some coins in their tip jars, now labeled “Just In Case We Have to Pay the Fine”. I can imagine the government inspectors being forced away from these locals by an impenetrable wall of smoke. Unable to get enough visibility through the grey cloud to identify the name of the bar and address in order to send the fine, they will simply give up, walk away and never return. Hoorah! Power to the smokers. Yeah right.

The news programmes have been desperate to pick up on any story related to the change in the law. On the 2nd of January they interviewed a bar owner who had been forced to lay off staff because of the effect the new law had had on his business. You have to wonder how much money he was making a day in order to warrant this sacking after only 24 hours.  Or maybe he was just an opportunist who thought he´d get some free advertising by sacking an employee, blaming it on the smoking ban and calling Telecinco. He got his coverage. As have many similar scoundrels.

There have been wonderful stories all week about how bars are adapting to or defying the new law. A group of half a dozen restaurateurs and bar owners in Valencia have got together and announced that they will each take it in turns to sack an employee over the coming weeks unless the government rescinds the law. They´re hoping half the other 300,000 establishments in the area do the same as revenge against the government.  If that doesn´t work maybe they´ll start taking clients hostage and force them to breathe smoke until they get their way.

The clients of another bar have started taking their cigarette break outside en masse. Once there they walk back and forth across the zebra crossing immediately outside the door paralyzing traffic for three minutes. At least they get a bit of exercise. See new law working already, even those who don’t give up are healthier.

There was the obligatory story about a guy who got thumped cause he asked some guy to put out a cigarette and had to get stitches. There was a story about a bar that refused to put its cigarette vending machine inside the door instead of outside. Or was it outside the door instead of inside. I forget. There even a story about a bar serving up tripe tapas in ashtrays. They had about 1,000 spare ashtrays and didn’t know what to do with them. At least they are being inventive.

So the most interesting consequences of the smoking ban in Spain have been one guy with a dozen stitches, half a dozen pensioners eating tripe out of an ashtray, people walking back and forth across a zebra crossing and a bar which has to put its cigarette vending machine outside (or inside). One wonders why PSOE were so concerned to do it in the first place.

If there is anywhere that will benefit from this smoking ban, surely Donostia is that place.  A bar filled with smoke was never particularly conducive to the preservation of plates of pintxos on bar tops. Additionally, bars here tend to be quite small making the concentration of smoke more oppressive than in larger establishments. I think even smokers would agree that eating and smoking don’t go together well. You don’t tend to light up mid meal and have puffs between mouthfuls of food in the same way you may swig a wine. And the problem is that that lovely smoke you’re enjoying immediately after your meal, is wafting directly into the nostrils of someone who has just started.

So, Sr Zapatero, even though you botched the first law, thanks, gracias and eskerrik asko from all the pintxos, bollos and banderillas in Donostia. Award yourself a fag for a good job done. In the privacy of the moncloa, obviously.

Trying to get the message across befoer the ban

About PintxoBoy

Scottish by birth and in my heart. Basque by lifestyle and in my stomach. Living in San Sebastián where I eat and comment about as many pintxos as I can. In my spare time I work in Marketing the renewable energy sector.
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11 Responses to Spanish Smoking Ban

  1. Gigis_mum says:

    Three cheers for the smoking ban! Another great article, Pintxo Boy. Many thanks!

    • donostilad says:

      Cheers! Glad you liked it. The smoking ban has actually made a real difference to me, especially in giving me a much wider choice of cafeteria for my morning coffee and bun! And I can confirm all the cafeterias and bars remain full of people. And just outside the door as well!

  2. Vandrelyst says:

    I couldn’t believe that this went into effect right as I left Spain! On the brightside, I have the dubious distinction of being part of the last semester of Erasmus students to experience the stinkiest aspect of Spanish culture. 😉

  3. Peter Thurgood says:

    Spain is already set to take a massive tumble, maybe so bad that they will take the Euro along with them (hopefully), and what does their brain-dead Government do? It imposes a smoking-ban that not only threatens to put many thousands of bar and restaurant staff out of work, but also threatens to kill off a massive part of their main trade, which is the tourist industry.

    And why are they doing this? Well they ‘say’ it is to save lives, they ‘say’ that second-hand smoke kills people, they ‘say’ a lot more silly things as well, like most Socialist Governments do, but they don’t offer any proof whatsoever, regarding these very dubious “facts”. The truth is, as we here in the UK now know, and are desperately trying to get our Government to also know, is that second-hand smoke is positively harmless.

    So what is the real reason behind these riddiculous smoking-bans that are crippling so many countries economies now? I am sorry that I cannot give a definitive answer on that one, as no one seems to know why, but what we have seen since the smoking ban here, and over 60% of our pubs closing, with more closing every day, is the rise, and further rise of the pharmaceutical companies, don’t worry, you in Spain have this to come.

    The best excuse an anti-smoker can offer, to someone who enjoys smoking, is that they do not like the smell. How bloody pathetic! I don’t like the smell of lots of things, but I don’t call for them to be banned.

    By the way, I used to be in the tourist industry, (12 years) supplying Spanish property rentals and sales until this ban came into force. I have now given up that business, as I just cannot recommend Spain as a holiday destination any more, to people who are loooking for freedom and relaxation.

    If anyone wishes to find out more about the lies that have been used to suport the bans around the world, you can log onto Taking Liberties here

    • donostilad says:

      Wasn’t my intention to have the article as a pro or contra to the ban in general. The news has thrown up some great little stories since the ban and I thought they made some nice anecdotes. The PSOE government has managed the introduction of the law(s) very badly (not a controversial opinion I´m sure).
      However, I do feel that it is a positive move for San Sebastian specifically, which is basically what I´m writing about in this blog. The pintxo culture is so strong here that it dominates any bar / pub experience, especially in the old part, gros and centro. Go to any bar and you´ll find the length of the bar covered with plates with food in top in the open air. And I´m not talking about peanuts and crisps. Prawns on bread covered with mayonnaise and chilies. Crab paste in pastry cups. Potato omelettes. Fresh, lovingly crafted, tasty delicacies. You can see where I´m going with this right? It doesn’t go with people smoking over the top of them. Or for these plates to be left out in a smoke filled atmosphere for 40 minutes.
      Add to this the fact that most bars are small, crowded places where people don’t spend long periods of time. So if you´re a smoker, its not a hassle to wait until you´re walking to the next bar to have something. Or step outside, there´ll be loads of people there having a pintxo anyway.
      And there´s something unique here in San Sebastian. Bars where people are savouring small delicacies, often inventive, often playing with flavours and smells. In small bars, squeezed in shoulder to shoulder with many other people (anyone who has ever eaten in La Cuchara de San Telmo will know what I´m talking about). And this experience is not enhanced by a smoke filled environment or smoke directly wafting at you from someone standing 3cm from you. As I said, smoking may be a joy to a smoker after a meal, but you have to be pretty hard core to be smoking while you eat. So other people shouldn’t be forced to breathe smoke while they are trying to enjoy that. As smokers simply don’t respect that, people have demanded stronger measures.
      Hence why the message was “thanks from the pintxos”.
      I believe this law strengthens and protects a unique cultural experience here. So, for me, here, it´s very welcome.

  4. richard m says:

    Good article and nice site…..i’m pleased about the ban, the level of smoke in some bars was the only blemish on our pintxo experiences in SS, coming back in May and look forward to some tobacco free foie in La Cuchara!

  5. James says:

    I’ve been here in Salamanca since October and it’s incredible how much the smoking ban has changed things. Coming back from my Christmas vacation was like stepping into a whole new world – sometimes it still strikes me how the air is so clear inside the pubs and tapas bars. There’s nothing more off-putting than inhaling a mouthful of smoke while you’re trying to enjoy some lovely pintxos of morcilla, gulas and solomillo de pato.

    I was just deciding between Cádiz and Donostia-San Sebastián for a trip over Holy Week, and your site pretty much got me sold on the latter! After being around a few parts of Spain I still think the Basque Country has the best pintxos, I will never forget my first experience in Bilbao or the time I had them adorned with the freshest fish in Bermeo.

    • donostilad says:

      Great! Hope you decide to choose Donosti in the end!

      The smoking ban has been an absolute revelation for me, it’s opened up so many places I could never go to before, especially for breakfast. And the pintxo experience is better than ever.

  6. contessapv says:

    I am a USA citizen from Galveston Texas…they had a smoking ban, then recended part of it, but MANY of the bar still enforce it and tourism ROSE in percentage dispite the bad economy in the USA. I live in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and they do have a ban on smoking here…it is relatively new. Many enforce it . Some do not .
    Even in palapas and outdoors they enforce it. In a few OLD popular bars a few smoke but very few. Most people know that tobacco carries carcinogens that are known to KILL by second hand smoke. Who wants to eat and taste smoke ….via
    their smell that should be savoring the smell of the food ?

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