Shocking: people in Spain no longer smoke inside bars. They step outside to smoke, or sit at an outside table, and many fewer people smoke overall.
With the exception of 2007, my memory is a smoke so blue and thick in every bar that you could not see across the room. It was literally like entering a toxic cloud.
As a study abroad student in Spain I smoked too. In Herencia I smoked Lucky Strikes and Ducados, the black tobacco my homestay father used. In Barcelona I smoked Marlboro Reds and occasionally Galoix or Dunhills, European brands. It is hard to believe now but during one evening out it was was easy to go through four packs of cigarettes. This is because it was customary to offer everyone in your group a smoke if you wished to have a cigarette. I had quit smoking before my semester in Barcelona. Faced with multiple cigarette offers on an hourly basis – this was the custom, really – and surviving the dense secondary smoke of every bar or cafe, I quickly returned to smoking cigarettes.
For the most part, bars in Spain are for everyone: families including young children, the elderly, students, and professionals. Some bars, called cafeterias, open for breakfast and are still open at midnight. All bars serve food with beverages and it is not mandatory to drink alcohol. Coffee and soft drinks are equally consumed in bars. After dinner, which is served as late as 11pm, Spanish youth go out in large groups. Different bars open for this crowd and generally food is not served. Later, at 2am, the discos open for dancing. They close at 7 or 8am.
In Spain cigarettes can only be purchased at Estancos. The goverment regulates the number of Estancos in a community and the distance between them. Currently a pack of cigarettes costs around 4 euros; eighty per cent of the earnings is tax. Estancos provide bars with cigarette machines; the cigarettes cost fifteen cents more . You have to be eighteen years old to buy tobacco.
Spain has raised the price on cigarettes and increased its antismoking campaign to curb tobacco use. Prpaganda on the cigarette packets themselves includes “Fumar mata” and photos of a cancerous throat or lung.
Thirty percent of the population smokes; over the age of 16 more men than women smoke. Between the ages of fourteen and eighteen more young women than men smoke: thirty five percent of this age group comprises young female smokers.
Before my last visit in 2007, Spain had passed legislation prohibiting smoking in bars and other eateries but no one took it seriously. Hand-made signs that read “No smoking” were ignored. The Anti-Tobacco Law, which took effect in 2011, clarified the earlier ban on smoking in bars by prohibiting all smoking in closed, shared spaces. Some bar owners protested the law believing that it would put an end to their livelihood. This has not been the case.
Today Spain’s bars are blissfully smoke-free. Shocking.