This year marks the 20th anniversary since I returned to Spain for good, though I didn’t know it at the time. Has this country changed over the past two decades? You bet it has, in many ways. In others, not so much. Over the next 365 days, I will try and discuss this transformation.
As I speak, if there is one feature of this society that has really marked a difference between then and now it has been the very recent introduction of the new anti-tobacco law. The real anti-tobacco law, I say, because the previous one was basically laughed out of town. Up until that point, anti-tobacco measures were scant and tepid in severity. You have to remember that in the early 90s, the attitude towards smoking and prohibiting it were quite different. Many elevatros had there own ashtrays, for example. You could smoke freely in schools. Iberia still had a policy where the smoking and non-smoking sections were literally divided down the middle by the center aisle. Little by little, restrictions were imposed, but for the most part, they hardly chipped away at a deeply rooted tradition int his land. Plus, people paid little attention to them. Smoking has been disallowed in the subway for as long as I can remember, but yeasr ago, the tracks were thickly laden with a layer of extinguished cigarette butts.
The first major attempt came a few years ago in That was the one where bars and restaurants over a certain size had to create a smoking section (with proper ventilating and all) and the tiny ones under 100 m2 could if they wanted to go smoke-free or not. Well, you can only imagine which one they chose in the face of potentially heavy customer loss. Schools and such were finally rid of smoking, after all it was 2005, but pretty much life as puffers knew it pretty much returned to normal.
This time, though, things are a little different. Has Spain become smokeless? Not exactly. But it definitely isn’t that easy to find a place to light up anymore and I can assure you that some people are pretty pissed. The big deal is that you can no longer smoke in bars and restaurants which happen to be the places where smokers like to be. To an American reader, this might seem like common sense, but to the Spaniard, this is a revolutionary moment, a triumph for some and treason for others, but if other countries can do it, so can Spain. It was really a matter of time.
So, now I roam around the city and keep asking myself what the hell are all these groups of people hanging out in groups in the streets and that is when I realize that they are all outside shivering in the cool damp weather and having a smoke. And the days when the outdoor cafés only opened for the really good weather are history, now that many restaurants are sticking a table or two outdoors for the nicotine needy.