Social and economic clamor to stop the new anti-smoking plan

The new anti-smoking plan that the Ministry of Health is going to present today for approval is met with strong opposition from various sectors of the Spanish economy. Starting at the base, the tobacco leaf farmers, and continuing with the tobacconists, the tobacco companies, the vaping businessmen and, finally, the hoteliers.

This Department will bring to the Public Health Commission the “Comprehensive Tobacco Prevention and Control Plan (PIT) 2024-2027”, a text prepared almost entirely in 2021 and which, unexpectedly, has seen the light again in dates of marked political controversy in Congress. The rule, among other provisions, proposes prohibiting smoking and vaping in “certain outdoor community and social spaces” – read the terraces of hospitality and leisure establishments – as well as increasing the price of tobacco.

The companies affected, which bring together hundreds of thousands of workers, have criticized the fact that they have not been consulted to prepare a plan whose measures will impact each of the links in the chain.

The Interprofessional Tobacco Organization in Spain (Oitab), made up of tobacco leaf farmers and the first processing industry, has already expressed its disagreement as a single voice; the Union of Tobacconists' Associations of Spain and the Union of Vaping Promoters and Entrepreneurs (UPEV).

Precisely from the Oitab, its president, Felipe Castañar, requested yesterday in a statement that before making a new PIT the Government assess the “irreversible negative impacts” that it would cause in its specific sector which, as he has indicated, contributes 3.3 billion euros to the Spanish GDP and more than 53,000 jobs.

In this framework, the agricultural organization Union of Small Farmers and Ranchers (UPA) has also pointed out the need to listen to and protect the tobacco producers who continue to live off the 1,500 farms in Spain, which total 10,000 hectares of cultivation, according to their data, 95 percent of them in Extremadura.

For his part, José Luis Yzuel, president of Hospitality of Spain, which brings together restaurants, bars, cafes and pubs from all over Spain, told Efe yesterday that he did not understand this measure because there is currently no problem with smoking on terraces, spaces outdoors and ventilated, and he expressed it bluntly: “Those in charge are the top Taliban against absolutely everything, who want to tell us how we have to live and how we have to die. With all due respect, let me live as I want as long as it doesn't bother you. In addition to the economic damage that this measure could cause in the hospitality industry, Yzuel wanted to put the emphasis on freedom and the people's lifestyle, one of the pillars that bases the social opposition to this norm since it breaks the balance between health and freedom of the nine million Spanish smokers.

Regarding the increase in the price of the pack, the Union of Tobacconists' Associations of Spain has rejected the implementation of the generic pack of tobacco and the “disproportionate” increases as measures to combat smoking. For example, they remember that previous strong price increases have brought catastrophic consequences such as a significant increase in smuggling, which reached 50 percent in autonomous communities such as Andalusia and Extremadura.

Even Health will propose a new tax figure that establishes a specific tax for electronic cigarettes with nicotine. Water pipes, shishas or hookahs will also become regulated if this highly contested measure finally goes ahead.

Against tourism

The affected sectors remember that Spain is among the most restrictive EU countries in terms of anti-smoking laws and only Sweden, with very different climatic conditions, has a ban on smoking on terraces in force. Thus, they believe that in a country with international leadership in tourism, this tightening of the law would generate confusion among visitors, who do not have this measure in their countries of origin, and that many of these tourists are attracted by the lifestyle and model of leisure where terraces have a strong weight. In short, competitiveness with other tourist destinations in the Mediterranean area would be lost.