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Smoking at Spanish restaurants, bars banned

By Al Goodman, CNN
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Spain's infamously smoke-clogged cafes, bars and clubs will become clearer after the ban.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bar owners worry about loss of revenue
  • Government says businesses will be OK
  • Law took effect Sunday
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Madrid, Spain (CNN) -- A law in Spain that went into effect Sunday has banned smoking in indoor bars and restaurants, giving the nation some of the toughest smoking restrictions in western Europe.

The law puts Spain in line with Britain, France and Italy, which prohibit smoking in all enclosed public places.

Spain's hotel and restaurant federation warns of a 10 percent drop in business and tens of thousands of job losses in the midst of the nation's deep economic crisis.

But the government says similar laws elsewhere in Europe did not hurt business in the long run.

Juan Carlos Sanchez says he goes to a neighborhood bar several times a day to have a cigarette with his coffee or beer. Like many smokers here, he is adamantly opposed to the new law.

"If I can't smoke here in the bar, maybe I'll come just once a day, or not at all. When I ask for a coffee or beer, but then have to smoke in the street, I don't understand," said Sanchez, who manufactures filters for air conditioners.

Fernando Vazquez, owner of a bar and restaurant in Madrid where Sanchez was smoking late last week, said the smoke-free air starting on Sunday might be nice. But it will come at a price for his business.

"Spaniards spend a lot of time in bars and will probably spend less time now," Vazquez said. "Instead of drinking three or four beers, they'll have one."

Spaniards have had a relationship with tobacco for 500 years. Explorer Christopher Columbus saw tobacco on his voyages to the New World and Spanish sailors brought it to Europe.

So undoing old habits is not easy here.

A law four years ago banned smoking at work. But it essentially allowed Spain's 300,000 bars and restaurants to choose whether they would prohibit smoking. Most did not.

This time, there are supposed to be no exceptions, as the government tries to reduce the 50,000 tobacco-related deaths each year.

Nearly a third of Spaniards puff away and smoke-filled bars have been the norm.

Business owner Florentino Matamala is a former smoker who supports the legislation.

"People can't quit overnight and those who are used to smoking while having a coffee are going to have it rough. But I think it's positive, for the general good."