The impact of Spain’s smoking ban, five years on

Experts say public backing has helped overcome initial reluctance

Aitor Bengoa
The number of smokers in Spain has fallen by 2% since the smoking ban was introduced five years ago.
The number of smokers in Spain has fallen by 2% since the smoking ban was introduced five years ago.Hugo Ortuno (EFE)

On January 2, 2011, Spain finally banned smoking in bars and restaurants. The new legislation came into force amid the country’s worst economic crisis in a lifetime, prompting protests from the  hospitality sector, as well as complaints about establishments allegedly in breach of it.

“The measures could not have been implemented at a worse time,” says Emilio Gallego, head of Spain’s FEHR national hostelry federation. “The impact, right at the epicenter of the economic crisis, was tremendous.”

The fall in cigarette sales is a consequence of the availability of illegal tobacco, not just a decline in smoking” Juan Páramo, head of tobacco industry body ADELTA

Although tobacco restrictions had been in force before 2011, in some regions, establishments had been allowed to create smoking areas using extractor fans and air conditioning, which in many cases involved significant investment.

But despite complaints from the bar and restaurant industry, the general public seems to have backed the ban, at least according to Francisco Rodríguez Lozano, president of a Europe-wide anti-smoking network. “Society supported the law,” he says, pointing out that the number of smokers has fallen by 2% over the last five years and that although no figures are yet available, there is likely to be a fall in heart and lung illnesses. There have already been fewer cases of asthma among children, Rodríguez notes, adding that all of this will have a long-term benefit for the health system.

Tobacco sales have dropped by around half since 2008.
Tobacco sales have dropped by around half since 2008.GORKA LEJARCEGI

Rodríguez says Spain’s anti-smoking legislation is among the most advanced in Europe, and that now is the time to take the next step toward eradicating smoking: generic packaging. This would mean that cigarettes could only be sold in plain white boxes printed with the manufacturer’s name, accompanied by photographs of tumors and other problems related to smoking, something that other European countries have already been moving toward.

FACUA, Spain’s consumer watchdog, says it initially received hundreds of complaints about bars and restaurants failing to respect the new laws, but that in the intervening five years, the number of such reports has fallen to around one a week.

But organization spokesman Rubén Sánchez adds that regional authorities are not meeting their responsibilities and are relaxing controls. “The owners of some bars know they aren’t going to be inspected,” he says, adding that the few inspections that take place tend to be during the day, despite the fact that most infractions take place in the evenings.

More information
Why so many Spanish youngsters are still lighting up
The smoking toll in Spain: 166 men and 40 women die every day

Juan Páramo, the director general of ADELTA, which represents Spain’s tobacco industry, agrees smoking habits have changed in Spain as a result of the law, noting that cigarette sales have fallen by half since 2008, when the first anti-smoking measures were introduced.

But Páramo adds that the tobacco industry’s biggest enemy remains smuggling, saying that the fall in cigarette sales is not just attributable to a decline in smoking, but is a “consequence of the transfer from legal to illegal tobacco markets.”

In response to continued demand from smokers, many bars, where possible, have created outdoor, or partially covered areas on sidewalks. “Terrace tables are being put out all year round, not just in the summer,” says Páramo.

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