Going Smoke Free

Austrians are prolonging the pain, tearing off the band-aid one fine hair at a time

Opinion | Charles Vatchell | December 2010 / January 2011

Like a child reluctantly tugging at a band-aid, Austria is slowly, painfully but inevitably entering the modern enlightened era of passive-smoke protection. Like the inalienable right to puff away on the public transport and in cinemas, the inalienable right to smoke in bars and restaurants is becoming an anachronism.

Yet there is still a lot of nonsense written about the subject of tobacco legislation.  For example, Austria-based journalists seem to hold the more stringent bans in the U.K. solely responsible for pub closures in Great Britain, as if such phenomena as the recession, cheap super market alcohol and ever-stricter drink-driving controls didn’t exist.

You may as well blame the smoking ban in the cinema for dwindling box office takings, conveniently forgetting the rise of the DVD and flat screen televisions.

The smoking bans in the majority of European nations are characterized as being imposed from "nanny-state" governments, conveniently forgetting that such legislation widely enjoys approval rates in excess of 90%.

But more irksome than the lifting of misleading statistics from the homepages of tobacco lobbyists  (labeled Merchants of Doubt in a new book by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway for their nefarious record of distorting the figures) is the sentimentalizing of the bad old days. Forget the faux glamour of Mad Men, as a non-smoker,  there is nothing romantic about being compelled to endure someone else’s "liberty" to smoke.

Take cash-strapped students, for example, whose day-time hours are filled with lectures and seminars. It won’t have occurred to those with trust-funds, but for the vast majority who are not bankrolled without limit by their parents, working evenings serving food and drinks is often the only feasible way to manage both the text-books and the bills. In pre-ban Paris, my nightly sore throat and irritated red-eyes and nicotine headache were the cost of being able to continue studying. It is the same for hundreds of students in Vienna today.

As they say "One man’s right to swing his fist is another man’s bloody nose."

A number of the more hip bars in Vienna, including Sapa, Das Möbel and Café Nil, have ripped off the band-aid in one quick movement and  are now 100% smoke-free. Many of these establishments like Café Phil and the Kunsthalle Café, are so full you have to book ahead at peak times to guarantee a table. It’s an encouraging development.

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