CENTRAL Government gave the green light yesterday to its full anti-smoking law. When it comes into force on 2nd January, it will mean that smoking will be prohibited in all public places in Spain - some of them outside such as in parks and children's play areas, and school and hospital grounds.
The priority of the anti-smoking law which will now be enforced in its most restrictive form, a Health ministry spokesman explained, is to stop the under-age taking up the habit.
Apart from putting back the age at which people start smoking, the law also aims to protect passive smokers, above all, those working in the hostelry industry - bars, cafés, hotels and restaurants.
In yesterday's debate held in Congress, the members rejected an amendment to the law put forward by the opposition Partido Popular (PP) party which called for special conditions to be made available for smokers in casinos, bingo halls and gaming halls. The PP wanted to see 30 percent of each of these premises given over to smokers.
And too, Congress rejected a proposal put forward to give financial help to those proprietors who adapted their premises to the partial smoking ban imposed in 2005, where bars, cafeterias and restaurants had to put up dividing walls to cut off the smokers from the non-smokers. All the expense and effort that went into accommodating the partial ban now counts for nothing because the ban covers all public spaces.
It was perhaps surprising then that Congress gave overwhelming approval, 336 votes in favour and 5 against, to the setting up of cigarette machines in shops at petrol stations and the sale of non-filter tip cigarettes at retailers which have been granted appropriate official perrmission from the Tobacco Marketing Commission.
Such premises would most likely include newspaper kiosks, and other retailers where papers and magazines were the principal items onsale, a spokesman for Congress explained after the debate.
Speaking to the members yesterday, Leire Pajín, Central Government Minister for Health, Social Policy and Equality, attempted to buoy the flagging spirits of proprietors in the hostelry industry, assuring them that they won't be left without clients. She urged them to see it as a new window of opportunity to modify their businesses accordingly. Pajín said that now bars, cafeterias, restaurants and hotels will be smoke-free spaces, sections of society such as the very young and elderly who might not otherwise have ventured out could now be considered potential clients.
The minister said that the new clientele could also include the 70 percent of the population of the country who are non-smokers.
The Balearic Hoteliers' Federation had been among the organisations demonstrating in Madrid in recent weeks against the total smoking ban.
Hoteliers had wanted a smoking lounge permitted in their establishments so that clients - many of them from countries where a total ban is not yet in force - can still relax and enjoy a cigarette, with or without refreshments.
The hoteliers were willing to accommodate the new toughness of the law by banning minors from such lounges and by also making it clear that hotel staff would not be required to serve drinks in spaces where people were smoking. All the protest has been to no avail.