Catalan health department plans law to ban smoking outside schools and on terraces

Over one in five residents are smokers but trend has gone down for decades

Two people smoking on a bar terrace
Two people smoking on a bar terrace / Pere Francesch
Catalan News

Catalan News | @catalannews | Barcelona

September 23, 2022 09:47 AM

September 23, 2022 07:24 PM

The Catalan health department is drafting a law to ban smoking in several outdoor spaces such as outside schools, outdoor seating areas of bars and restaurants, and in bus stop shelters.

In an interview with Catalan public broadcaster TV3, health minister Josep Maria Argimon said that historically "regulations introducing new smoke-free areas have always led to people giving up smoking."

Health minister says public policies "aren't aimed at punishing people" but rather intend "to spread awareness"

The official, who believes Catalonia has the legislative power to put the proposal "to spread awareness and to encourage a culture shift" forward also announced that they will provide free nicotine replacement products "to residents with incomes under €18,000."

Argimon said that if regular support in primary care is accompanied by such therapies, the success rate of giving up smoking "is between 60% and 80% higher."

According to the health department, around 600,000 people could benefit from this free service, which is estimated to cost around €300 per person.

The new law could be presented "in the coming weeks" and it would then begin its parliamentary path towards approval.

If lawmakers pass it, there will be a "transition period," but Argimon also pointed out that smoking used to be allowed in restaurants, something that would be unthinkable now.

Restaurants and bars are against it

The announcement made by the Catalan health minister came as a "surprise" for many bar and restaurant owners, as Roger Pallarols, director of Barcelona's Restaurants Association (Gremi de Restauració de Barcelona) said in an interview with RAC1 radio on Friday morning. There "was no problem" with the matter and the decision has been taken without knowing "the reality" of smokers, he added.

In fact, for Pallarols, the decision is "contradictory" to what Argimon stated at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, when he said, "there were enough bans in place already."

The director of the city's Restaurants Association also complained that the politician has not met with them despite "dozens of requests."

On a similar note, Barcelona Comerç president and deputy vice president of the Restaurants Association, Salva Vendrell, criticized that "in the vast majority of cases, all these measures go against bars and restaurants."

The proposal to ban smoking on terraces arrives after three years of Covid restrictions. Measures that have "affected" a lot of these establishments "are part of the city's lifestyle," Vendrell told the Catalan News Agency (ACN).

Restaurant owners disagree with plans for smoke-free terraces

"The measure is completely exaggerated and the opinions of residents are not being heard in the debate. Smoking may bother some people more than others but it is not an urgently needed measure, there are others in the restaurant sector that would be more efficient," he concluded.

22% of residents are smokers

The number of smokers has been decreasing for decades, but it is still over one in five residents. 

Indeed, almost 50,000 people residing in Catalonia gave it up in 2021, which contributed to an all-time low in the proportion of smokers, decreasing from 24.6% in 2020 to 22.6% last year, according to the latest health department survey.