Practical Example of the Non-Smoking Laws in Madrid Restaurants

We had lunch in a favourite village bar today up in the sierra an hour above Madrid. The bar has a ‘comedor’ (restaurant section) at the back, with two large rooms, the slightly smaller of which is joined to the larger one by a small flight of steps. To kind of comply with anti-smoking laws put in place a few years back (that state that any bar or restaurant over, I believe, 100 m squared must have a section designated for smokers that doesn’t exceed a third of the total floor space), the slightly smaller room up the steps has been deemed the no-smoking area.

Well, that’s a start, except for the fact that this room is only opened on weekends when there are enough customers to merit opening it up and either heating or air-conditioning the extra space, depending on the time of year.

So, we had lunch surrounded by the local Ducados and cigar-smoking obreros and oldies, while the door to the non-smoking section remained shut. Lovely. We like the place so much that we still go, but try to arrive early before it gets too smoky. We have asked to be let in the non-smoking area in the past, but it didn’t go down well (es que la calefacción no está puesta… … the heating isn’t on… ) so we’ve given up.

Theoretically someone could report the place but it seems unlikely as a) it’s a family run place that has been frequented by the same people for years, and everyone is fond of them, and b) everyone just accepts that this is quite normal and knows nothing would come of reporting them anyway.

How I wish Spain would join France, Spain, Italy, Ireland etc and sort smoking in bars and restaurants out once and for all… Come on Zapatero, get with the program!

37 thoughts on “Practical Example of the Non-Smoking Laws in Madrid Restaurants

  1. Ray

    It obviously doesn’t bother you enough, as you keep going back.
    I don’t.
    Don’t go back, you don’t need a law.

  2. Tom

    Or you could say you’re allergic to smoke or something. Though that might not wash, given that you’ve been in the smoky room various times.

    My brother runs a pub in England and told me yesterday that non-smokers have now started whining about there being ‘too much smoke in the garden’.

  3. Tom

    Actually I really think you should either stop going to that restaurant or report the owners for breaching the smoking ban. The current law offers a way for those who don’t smoke and those who do, to enjoy most restaurants and bars. So it doesn’t need to be changed.

    Come on, Ben: take a stand and do a bit of direct action.

  4. Mark

    “accept” not “except”. Sorry, I’m a writer and I’m pedantic! Jajaja.

    So, I have to say, even though I’m a non-smoker and I cough like blazes when there’s a cloud of pollution floating across my tapas, Spain is Spain and I like it this way. The anarchistic disregard of declarations from Brussels suits me just fine. I would much rather have the CHOICE to eat in a smoke haze than have everything all the same. I came to Spain because there’s a sense of “do what we want not what we’re told” here. It appeals to me mightily, even though it often inconveniences me! And Ben, I suspect that you feel the same … because you know that you don’t HAVE to eat there! 🙂

  5. Ben Post author

    @Ray, yes, it bothers me, but I love the place and the food and the owners… so…
    @Tom – I’d never take that stand with them!
    @Mark – It is something I love about Spain too, I’m just one of those non-smokers (many years ago a bit of a smoker), who now really really hates smoking – it’s the one thing I wish the Spanish would step into line with!

  6. John Ross

    I’m sure you don’t really think the world would be better if everywhere were the same. Put up with it or go and live somewhere more to your liking. This constant griping is just wearisome.

  7. Frank

    “This constant griping is just wearisome”

    Put up with it, or go somewhere more to your liking!

  8. Joe Camel

    Ben, I have a great idea. Wear a gas mask with a hole for a straw and drink a liquid diet. You’ll be protected against the thousands of pollutants besides smoke and you’ll live to be two hundred!

  9. Brendan

    I agree with Mark "do what we want not what we’re told” It’s one of the thing I love about Spain and the one thing that can drive me to distraction! However, live and let live/die (delete as approriate) I say.

    With time, there will be a day when a blanket smoking ban will come into force. Until then, don’t rock the boat…

  10. Dean Hunt

    We went to a restaurant tonight that had been recommended. We asked for a non-smoking table and were told that there wasn’t such a thing…

    We turned straight around and took our money elsewhere.

    Anyway, we can live with it… but I was asthmatic as a child, so would prefer not to die just yet 😉

    Sounds like you are in a catch22 Ben.


  11. jomik746

    My sister is highly asthmatic and cigarette smoke is a trigger that throws her into such a breathing ordeal that a hospital visit is sometimes required. My city (and many others) in the States has enacted a no smoking ban in all restaurants much to my and my sister’s enjoyment. The only places that are allowed to have smoking are places that have a certain percentage of their sales coming from alcohol (i.e. Bars). I’m all for people’s right to smoke, but, hey, can’t I enjoy a nice lunch out with my sister?

  12. Jonathan

    When you’re out in the sierra, you takes your chances, I’m afraid. After all, all that fresh sierra air can’t be good for you. I remember reading that Zapatero himself enjoys an illegal puff or two in his workplace, the presidential palace, so he’s unlilkely to “get with the program” anytime soon.

  13. ValenciaSon

    When the scofflaws realize finally they can no longer scoff at the law because of consequences, then maybe we won’t have to trade off decent air for decent food. Report them Ben. They don’t have to be restauranteurs.

  14. Ray

    I take it back, Ben. You should not stop going there. But, if they don’t provide you with a place to eat without breathing in other people’s smoke, THEY aren’t loving you back very much, are they?

  15. frank

    I love this almost servile acceptance of all things bad in Spain. Spain is what it is, accept it for what it is, it’s different. Where we we visit, hardly anyone wears a crash helmet, is that a good idea? Every one drives like idiots, often full of alcohol, just a look at their road death figures will convince you it ain’t a good idea. Spain, in many respects, is years behind the rest of Europe, but it will adapt, albeit it’ll be a very slow process. Somewhat late, and reluctantly, they have adapted UK type system of points for driving offences, and although their figures are still some of the highest deaths in Europe, they are seeing dramatic drops in the number of deaths. Is that a bad thing, or should Spain continue along as it always has? Spain is learning that if it wants to be considered seriously as a place of business, it has to do away with the siesta, they cannot operate an European business that shuts down for 3/4 hours every afternoon. So things will, and are changing, but I think it might be a year or two before Ben can enjoy a decent meal in his favourite restaurant in a smoke free atmosphere. 😉 He’ll have to suffer the “opium den” atmosphere for a while yet! You’ll have to wait for one of your visits to Oxford for that.

  16. Graeme

    Of course people have choices about where to go, but in Madrid it’s unfortunately a waste of time to insist on the law being complied with or to report a place that doesn’t comply with it. That’s because our beloved regional government has decided not to apply the law, as part of their desire to be at the centre of poltical opposition to the national government. When the tobacco law was first introduced there were places in Madrid complying with it – I even went to concerts where nobody was smoking. As soon as the regional government made it clear they didn’t like the law, all of that collapsed and now nobody takes any notice. It’s similar to what happened with smoking in the Metro, illegal for years but nobody took any notice until the authorities decided to apply the law.

  17. Anonimo Spaniard

    I do not know you brits if you are really living in Spain or somewhere in africa. I work in a modern building (with no caws or chikens) I start to work at 8:00 no shuts down for 3/4 hours, siesta is something very exotic to me. Near my work place theres 4 or 5 restaurants with menu del dí­a, all with thier non smoking area. People always use helmets when riding motorcicles. People do not do what they want, we have rules and laws we even use clothes like the civilizated brits!! I have a laptop an ipod a PS3 like the white man yeahhh!! What kind of image are you giving about may contry??? Are you all living in small town in andalucia or something? I know we have some extrange costums like “tirar la mierda al suelo en los bares” but in the main things we are not to many different fom people of other european contries. Ah i live in Madrid.

  18. Jonk

    Hey John Ross, you know what’s more wearisome?

    Anyway, I’m a bit like Dean I hate venues with smoking. I probably wouldn’t eat in that many restaurants with it. I’m used to going to pubs with it though, to have a few drinks, although I’m happy it’s now outlwaed in Aus.

  19. faemino

    @Anonimo Spaniard and Hellin,please, never argue with an idiot, they drag you down to their level. Your comments are just as bads as frank’s if not worse

    @Ben, I admire you, you’re a master of polemism, congratulations. Is frank your alter ego? Please tell, I’m closely watching your blogging technique and trying to learn from you.

  20. Dave

    Mark, I think Ben is using the ‘except’ correctly.

    And if you were that pedantic you would have noticed he’s spelt ‘Restaurants’ wrong in the title. 😉

  21. Ben Post author

    @faemino, So glad I can help, delighted you are learning. I just write about what I see and experience, and occasionally say whether I like it or not. Don’t worry, I feel some positivity coming on in the next post having experienced something wonderful yesterday evening!

    @Hellin – please try to write just one comment at a time, not three, or only the first will appear in future.

  22. Ben Post author

    @Dave, oops, I forgot to mention that I corrected the mistake Mark pointed out, now I’ll correct the title! Thanks!

  23. John Ross

    @Ben, Frank and the other whiners
    I don’t really want to drive you out of Spain (not all of you), but this interminable whinging is turning this website into a ghetto for ex-pats looking down their noses at the country. It was at least occasionally interesting not all that long ago, now it’s a constant gripe, gripe, whine, whine, usually about something as trivial as cigarette smoke, for heaven’s sake. Give it a rest! You, Ben, are capable of much better, you know you are, and as far as the rest of you are concerned, Spain isn’t England and shouldn’t be (it has little to envy), so if all you want is England with a better climate, why don’t you stay there and wait for the climate change?

  24. frank

    faemino, love this site, via your link

    I found myself agreeing with almost everything!;-)
    Especially these!. Thanks a lot for the link.

    Administración de Justicia lenta y anticuada: hay muchas leyes, pero nadie las cumple.

    Fuera de Madrid, no hay un verdadero "mercado laboral” que pueda calificarse de mercado

  25. Dean Hunt


    It might be trivial to you, but to others it is potentially fatal.

    I appreciate that it is your choice to smoke, and I would never try to interfere with that, but when you smoke around me you do NOT give me the choice, therefore I have an issue.

    Afterall, why should I potentially be killed by some weak minded individuals who can’t go 10 mins without feeding their weaknesses?

    Anyway, ref “wearisome”, you certainly are my friend.

    The fact that you can judge the lives of those around you as “trivial” says a lot about you.


  26. Dean Hunt

    Final comment on this matter… but in relation to your original points Ben… you may have a lot of friendship and respect for the owners, but it is clearly a one way street, as they are showing no form of respect to you and Marina.

    I am not suggesting you report them though, after all, I am sure nothing would happen even if you did.

  27. faemino

    frank, hermano, a veces no es lo que se dice, sino como se dice.

    Se puede criticar, pero no despreciar ni comparar.

    Tu pareces lleno de desprecio por España, a lo mejor me equivoco, espero que si, al fin y al cabo no te conozco.

  28. luke

    @ Ben
    Reading the irate outbursts, from some comments, against the UK has a great entertainment value. But I find it genuinely sad and sinister to read the comment by someone degrading Columbians. There isn’t any hint of irony there. I support your tolerance and the right to freedom of speech but is it worth publishing that?

  29. Ben Post author

    @Luke, I think I have removed the comment in question, having removed all hellin’s comments that are just too trollish. If I have accidentally removed any other comments in the process then many apologies.

  30. frank

    “It might be trivial to you, but to others it is potentially fatal.”

    Indeed it is! My wife suffers badly from asthma, and whilst going into a smoky restaurant probably won’t kill her, it is a painful experience for her.
    Came across the following headline a while ago, and whilst Mr Ross and his fellow addicts will not believe it, for me, it’s a huge step in the right direction.

    Heart attack admissions fall by up to 40% since smoking ban

  31. Edith

    @ John Ross,

    You don’t seem to understand that cigarette smoke is NOT trivial to some people, including those who suffer from asthma or – worse – COPD.

    In my opinion, smoking or any other form of substance abuse is just SO uncool. I’m sorry, but the cultural justifications you have given us in the past mean naught to me. A healthy lifestyle is for the docile? ROTFL

  32. frank

    Faemino, hermanita, No, as I have said many times, we have spent, and will continue to spend a lot of time in Spain. Do we like everything about Spain? Of course we don’t, but nor do we like everything about UK. For me, it’s strange that the pro smoking brigade feel it’s ok for them to express their opinions, but take Ben to task for having the audacity to express a view that does not coincide with theirs. Obviously Ben is going to pick a few “controversial” subjects, like smoking, bullfighting etc, that will hopefully generate lots of interest and posts, but I don’t see that as an excuse for people to tell him to either get used to it, or get out. It would appear that he genuinely does dislike smoking in restaurants though. I read a few “spanish in UK” forums, and I can assure you, the UK comes in for a great deal of stick there, it’s no different.

  33. MeganL

    For sushi lovers, check out Miyama, a new Japonese restaurant on the Castellana, at #45. 91 391 00 26. The whole establishment is non-smoking and the food and service are both great!

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