In Britain, one of the lemons we get sold by the media is that our smoking ban is really no different to those elsewhere. And if the rest of the world is doing it, why grumble?
As I've said before, this really isn't true. The total smoking ban is a phenomenon largely confined to the English-speaking world. I was in the Netherlands last week - and will be again next month for TICAP - of which the BBC reported in 2004:
Dutch clamp down on public smoking
Dutch smokers have begun the New Year with severe restrictions placed on where and when they can light up.
Laws which came into effect at midnight ban smoking in many public places including railway stations, trains, toilets and offices.
Okay, not that "severe", but then in 2008, the BBC told us:
Dutch smoking ban goes into force
A tobacco smoking ban has come into effect in cafes, bars and restaurants in the Netherlands.
The country is following a growing trend across Europe and the world of bans on smoking in public places.
This was followed by widespread protests from the Dutch which, of course, were not reported by the BBC:
Dutch cafe owners rally against smoking ban
Nov 29, 2008
THE HAGUE (AFP) — Dutch cafe owners on Saturday took to the streets of The Hague in protest at a smoking ban they say has seen business drop by up to a third.
And last year, a court ruled that the smoking ban didn't apply to owner-run bars (again, not reported by the Beeb):
Dutch smoking ban is up in the air
The appeals court in Den Bosch has ruled in favour of the owners of a Breda cafe who defied a national smoking ban, effectively repealing the smoking ban for small bars and cafes.
As I saw with my own eyes last week, there is effectively no smoking ban in the Netherlands (not Amsterdam anyway). The places I saw didn't look owner-run to me, and some of them did prohibit smoking, but most didn't. So either the ban is being widely and openly flouted or there's been a change to the law. The point is that I don't know because the issue is not being reported.
Spain, meanwhile, was reported to have a smoking ban in 2006. Anyone who's been to Spain since knows that the ban's a joke. It hardly applies to any bars at all. But if you relied on the British media you might believe that the Spanish ban was comparable to that of the UK.
The Spaniards were supposed to bring in a UK-style ban this year but, with half the country opposed to such a measure, that is now looking unlikely:
Anti-smoking ban postponed by Spain in search of consensus
Sources of the Health Ministry on Monday said that a parliamentary debate on tougher anti-smoking legislation has been postponed by the Spanish government in the hope of mustering more support for the controversial plan. The government had intended to present the law during the Spanish European Union presidency in the first half of this year, but may only do so later in the year, the sources said.
It may do so later in the year, but - as this article implies - the intention was to do so while Spain holds the six month EU-presidency. Once that ends, the idea of impressing the EU with tobacco control policies will lose its appeal. The government might decide to deal with some real problems instead, like its 19.5% unemployment rate.
All of which will mean that of the 27 EU states, only 2 - the UK and Ireland - will have a total smoking ban*. So who is really 'in line' with the rest of Europe here?
* Italy, France, Malta and the Scandinavian countries all allow designated smoking rooms