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So long, smoke-filled tapas bars: Spain's smoking ban begins

As of Sunday, anyone caught smoking in enclosed public spaces will now have to pay a 30 euro ($40) fine and as much as 100,000 euros ($134,000) after being caught three times.

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A sign that reads 'Smoking is forbidden' is posted on the door of a bar in Madrid, Sunday. A new Spanish antismoking law has taken effect which prohibits smoking in all enclosed spaces as well as at playgrounds, in schools, and outside hospitals.

Susana Vera/Reuters

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Spain’s reign as the last Western European haven for smokers ended Sunday as a new law came into effect banning smoking in enclosed public places.

Those caught smoking indoors or even in some open spaces like playgrounds will now have to pay a 30 euro ($40) fine and as much as 100,000 euros ($134,000) after being caught three times. Restaurant and bar owners failing to impose the new law will pay between 60 euros ($80) and 100,000 euros for each violation.

Many Spaniards are happy about the change, given the country's reputation for smoke-filled tapas bars.

“Finally we can eat,” says Patricia Vargas, a photographer and former smoker.

Smokers and bar and restaurant owners, however, are crying foul.

“This is unfair for smokers,” says Yasad Ecrem, a day laborer from Romania puffing away outside a slot machine business in the heart of Madrid. “They shouldn’t be able to impose this.”

A statistical battle

The debate over the issue here has become a statistical battle. Antismoking groups say at least 1,000 lives will be saved every year without any negative economic impact, while bar and restaurant owner associations say they will lose $8 billion a year and more than 100,000 will be laid off.

A series of antitobacco laws that allow most establishments to choose whether or not to ban smoking started going into effect four years ago. Yet they have been all but ignored. In fact, some regional governments, including that of Madrid, opposed central government efforts, allowing for numerous exceptions.

But the new law that went into effect today closed all loopholes, and smokers have been all but banned.

“This is horrible,” says Natalia, a Madrid resident who didn’t want her last name used. “They couldn’t have done this at a worse time, with the [economic] crisis and all. I’m not going to quit smoking over this, I can guarantee you, but I won’t go out to eat or to bars as much.”

Health concerns

Spain has its fair share of smokers, something the country's Health Ministry has been increasingly concerned about.

Almost 35 percent of Spaniards older than 16 are regular smokers, a record in the European Union, according to government figures. Some 40 percent of women between 15 and 25 are addicted, a threefold increase in 20 years.

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