A few days ago, it was rumoured that the Greek government would relax the ban in the face of widespread non-compliance, but after several failed attempts in the past, the authorities have instead decided to launch a crack-down:
"We need to protect public health even if it hurts the pockets of some people," Panagiotis Bechrakis, a prominent pulmonary expert, told Flash Radio.
A day earlier, Health Minister Andreas Loverdos had warned that the crackdown would be enforced "without exception."
"The state can be ridiculed no longer," the minister said, noting that in the last two months there had been 343,000 complaints from non-smokers but only 3,000 fines were imposed.
I suspect that the outcome in Greece will be that the ban stays on the statute books but ends up being widely flouted. After a brief crack-down to save face, the authorities will turn a blind eye outside of airports, hotels and city centres. The same will probably be true of Spain, where the legislation is particularly draconian (they can't even show people smoking on television!), unless bar-owners succeed in a Dutch-style campaign to relax the law. And, according to Appleton, the anti-ban movement is gathering momentum:
As time goes on, the anti-ban rebels seem to gain in strength and numbers. One of the first rebels was the bar Espirit in Castellón, whose owner Fernando Tejedor posted signs declaring that ‘smoking is permitted’ and who defended his ‘freedom to choose on my own premises’. The owner of a Marbella restaurant penned a veritable tract in which he said that the smoking ban was a ‘smokescreen to cover seven years of massive destruction in Spain’: ‘We inform you that as a private business we are making use of our rights as we understand them and the law will not be applied in our establishment.’ The head of a bar in Castilla y Leon, Manuel Rodríguez, declared himself a ‘non-conformist and against the anti-tobacco law’ and called a public demonstration for the ‘right to choose freely’.
Bars are becoming political battlegrounds. When police visited the rebel Marbella bar and reported the clients who were smoking, the owner launched a broadside against the officers. Bars are starting to form into political associations, sensing that there is strength in numbers and that if there are enough rebels then the law will be unenforceable. In one area of Madrid, a group of bar owners formed what was, in effect, a rebels’ syndicate, pledging that they will all do ‘as much as possible to ensure that you can smoke in their businesses’.
It strikes me that for a total smoking ban to succeed, a country must fulfill most or all of the following criteria:
1. A strong economy and a quiet political environment
2. An officious, jobsworth mentality amongst the authorities and/or a very law-abiding public
3. A relatively low smoking rate
4. A widespread belief that secondhand smoke is a major public health peril
The English-speaking and Scandinavian countries met all these criteria when they implemented their bans. Spain and Greece meet none of them. Other countries meet some of them but still fail. India, for example, has a low smoking rate and its authorities are famously officious, but the country remains poor and fear of secondhand smoke is not widespread. Eastern European countries, on the other hand, still have too many smokers to make bans workable. So do Germany and Austria, while the Dutch remain too liberal for a total ban to be considered acceptable.
Spanish and Greek authorities haven't made things any easier for themselves by introducing their bans at a time when their economies are basket-cases. The public can be forgiven for thinking there are more serious problems to deal with that people having a smoke in a bar, and—needless to say—bar-owners remain unconvinced by studies claiming that alienating half your customer base doesn't hurt business. But even if economic conditions were better, resistance to the law would be fierce. One way or the other, people will be smoking in Spanish bars for some time to come.