Not only is it drinking up time for many of Spain’s pubs and restaurants but the feared plan for a complete ban of smoking in public interior spaces looks to become law in the very near future. In another example of the trendy but often anaemic and undecided policy making, the PSOE Government introduced legislation in 2006 which currently permits restaurants and smaller bars of less than 100-sq meters to choose whether to allow smoking on the premises or not. Not surprising, very few if any establishments chose to ban smoking completely and with reassurances from the Government on 2006’s new legislation, proprietors provided a separate closed-off area for smokers, usually behind a glass wall, at their own expense.

Terrace Bar TorreviejaThat’s all due to change as in yet another change of policy, Health Minister Trinidad Jiménez has confirmed that all premises must be non-smoking however this will not extend to open air areas, such as restaurant terraces and sports stadiums, where smoking will still be permitted.

There was no clue from the Minister on precisely when in 2010 the absolute ban will be implemented. Jiménez has commented that discussions are in their final phase, with major support amongst politicians.

The changes have been roundly criticised by the hostelry sector, as they fear that the drop in profits will see a sharp drop and many businesses may be forced to close. Many feel deceived by the Government and are very unhappy with this policy change as three years ago the industry spent and estimated eleven million euros installing extractor fans and partition walls, at their own expense; an exercise that has proved to be a complete waste of money and resources for the trade.

Restaurant for SaleIn a radio interview with Rac1, the Minister said that the government’s decision is essentially based on protecting health and said she believes that Spain is ‘culturally prepared’ for stricter measures to be adopted. Outsiders would wonder why it’s taken three more years for the Spanish to adapt when the rest of Europe managed to adapt to the culture change overnight! If empty pubs in Ireland and Great Britain are anything to go by, the same thing is almost guaranteed to follow suit in Spain.

For those living along the Costa Blanca and Costa del Sol, stepping outside to smoke might not be too much of a hardship due to our kinder winter climate but that is certainly not the case on a wet and winter day in Barcelona, Madrid, Granada, central or northern Spain. Zapatero refused to admit for a long time that Spain was suffering from an economic crises. Sadly, this complete lack of foresight has already cost the hostelry industry millions in terms of internal investment. It seems that businesses, jobs and trade will now also be lost as part of there lack of positive decision-making.

In Torrevieja alone there are over 50 bars, cafes or restaurants up for sale owned by expats and another 60 or so offered by just one local web site, by Spanish owners. What the new law shall do to help these premises sell their business, remains to be seen.

‘Culturally prepared’! You be the judge!