One decade on, the battle against smoking in Spain needs a new impetus. The anti-tobacco law of 2005 and, especially, its modification in 2010, which banned smoking in restaurants and bars under any circumstances, successfully reduced the number of smokers from 28.1% of the population in 2003 to 19.8% in 2020. The arguments of the early days are long gone and people quickly got used to the fact that cigarettes were not permitted in enclosed public spaces. Spain became a model for Europe, say experts, but on Tuesday 31 May, World No Tobacco Day, this year there was still concern about how the numbers of people giving up has slowed right down in recent years. Every year 55,000 people in Spain die from illnesses caused by tobacco, such as lung cancer, pulmonary emphysema or heart attacks, and of them, some 1,000 have never actually smoked.
The renewed fight against tobacco smoke is called the Comprehensive Plan for Prevention and Control of Smoking 2021-2025 but, as can be seen from the name, it is rather late. It could be ready by the end of this year or in 2023, because it is still going through the administrative process.
In the past two years, the Covid crisis, child hepatitis and monkeypox virus have taken attention away from smoking and sources at the Ministry of Health now describe this Plan as a work in progress.
It will involve increasing taxes on tobacco to make it more expensive, making more places smoke-free (such as bar terraces and inside cars), removing brand names and logos from cigarette packets and treating electronic cigarettes the same as normal ones.
"The Spanish law has become obsolete," said Andrés Zamorano, president of the National Committee for the Prevention of Smoking. "We used to be an example to others, but now in over 15 countries cigarette packs already have to be neutral," he said. And he is clear that prices have to go up. "A pack of cigarettes can't cost five euros here and over ten or even 20 euros in other countries. We have to stop being a cheap place to buy tobacco," he said.
Experts also want the new plan to clarify where people can smoke and where they cannot. At present councils decide if smoking is allowed at bus stops, on beaches, seafronts and swimming pools. "Nobody has to breathe the smoke or aerosols of a smoker, so they need to ban it anywhere where other people are around," says Zamorano. In practice, this would mean the streets as well.
Statistics show that 70 per cent of smokers would like to give up, but many can't do it alone. "This should be covered by the health service," says Carlos Rabade, the coordinator of the smoking department of the Spanish Pneumology and Thorax Surgery Society (Separ). And in some cases it is: staff from the pneumology department at the Clínico hospital in Malaga set up an information stand on Tuesday to mark World No Tobacco Day, to raise awareness of the fact that the hospital has a unit to help people give up the habit.
The aim is to reduce the percentage of the population that smokes from the present 20 per cent to 10 per cent between 2030 and 2040. "If we all work together and turn this plan into a law similar to that of 2005 and 2010, it is possible that we can achieve that," says Dr Rabade.