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Spain Puts New Tougher Nonsmoking Policy into Effect

It wasn’t even a New Year’s resolution, but I kicked what I estimate was a two pack-a-day smoking habit on January 2. Cold turkey.

All I had to do was fly home from Europe.

During my recent trip to Austria, Czech Republic and Germany, many of the restaurants, bars and clubs I wanted to visit were so smoky that I might as well have been lighting up  myself. Even in Austria and Germany, which are part of the European Union and must adhere to certain guidelines on smoking, nonsmoking signs were largely ignored. The restaurants that offered nonsmoking sections were laughable: the smoke-free tables were, of course, the worst in the house, and the smoke doesn’t really adhere to the invisible boundary.

It was far worse in Prague, which does not have to follow the European Union guidelines at all. But it was pretty bad in Berlin, too. (I had to switch rooms in my Berlin hotel because the first “nonsmoking room” I was assigned stunk of stale smoke so badly.)

Apparently there are loopholes that some of the businesses exploit to allow customers to continue to light up. And this isn’t just a European thing: Florida has one of the most ridiculous nonsmoking laws. It bans smoking in all workplaces EXCEPT standalone bars. If the reason is to provide smoke-free work environments for workers, why does the state legislature consider those who work in bars to be unworthy of one? Yes, many of the people who work in bars are smokers. But being around other smokers increases the amount they inhale. (And to those who would say that those who don’t like to work in a smoky environment should just quit, I would point to the current unemployment figures. Someone who wishes to stop smoking and to have a nonsmoking work environment does not have the luxury to pick up and move on -- and, perhaps, lose health benefits, which has a whole lot of other implications that affect not only the worker but other taxpayers, too.)

It is also not a European thing in that with the New Year, Spain had initiated some of the toughest nonsmoking legislation in Europe. It even bans the depiction of smoking on television broadcasts. Here’s a story from the BBC with the details.

Of course there will be the usual hue and cry among business owners that they will lose so much business if their customers can’t smoke. Yeah, they may lose some, initially. But I’ll wager those customers will eventually come back. It’s the conviviality of eating and drinking with friends and being around others having a good time that is the ultimate reason people frequent restaurants and bars. It isn’t to smoke, or else they wouldn’t order food and drinks. Also, for every smoker who stays home as a protest to fume, literally, there will be others who will start to visit because they can now enjoy it without the haze in the air and in their lungs. As one commenter to the BBC story says: "I'm delighted. Spain has an strong cafe culture, that's exactly why I'm expecting to be able to enjoy it from now on."

As I sit here in my Orlando office, my lungs are aching. It’s possible it’s the onset of a cold or a response to the polluted air on the plane, but I have to believe it’s been exacerbated by all the smoke I breathed in.

I hope it’s just withdrawal symptoms.

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