Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Greece goes cold turkey - or is it just hot air?

Twitchy hands, bitten lower lips, ragged nails, fingers drumming the tabletop and manic knee-jiggling. Add some yearning glances at the fag packet and lighter they're nervously fiddling with, and you've got a picture of some of Greece's army of smokers today.

For today, a strict new smoking ban in all enclosed public places comes into effect. And - we are told - the law WILL be upheld and penalties handed out to those who flout it.

If you're one of 42% of Greeks over the age of 15 that still light up on a regular basis, that's bad news. Or is it?

Is that a note of cynicism we detect, you ask? (What, me? Never!).

Well, actually, yes. I am definitely in "Yeah, right" territory on this one - at least until I am proved wrong.

It's no mistake that we're talking about today's ban as the "new" anti-smoking law. It's not the first one. In July 2009, legislation that banned smoking in public places came into effect. Except that it didn't, not really. Restaurants and bars over 70 square metres were allowed to have a 'Smoking Area' so long as it was totally separate from the non-smokers (Result? The Smoking Areas of most bars and cafeterias took over the entire premises), and smaller establishments could choose not to have a non-smoking area (how about just banning non-smokers?).

Great ban, eh?

But this time - we are told - will be different. The law will be enforced and those who break it punished. OK, I'll buy that, but my two decades in the country tell me that even when fines are handed out, the offenders will simply ask their cousin's brother-in-law to have a word with their godfather who knows a man who can make it quietly disappear...

Don't get me wrong. I'm no anti-smoking nazi. I smoked myself until four years ago, and the Ovver Arf and many of my friends still do. So long as I can sit next to them without being turned into a smoked mackrel, I'm pretty easy-going. But, my Inner Pedant is screaming "Don't introduce a ban if you're not going to make it stick!".

And who will enforce it? The Police? Last time I had to visit a police station - in March this year, long after the old ban outlawed smoking in all public buildings - the officer I dealt with was squinting painfully through the smog rising from the fag clamped in the corner of his mouth.

For sure, the next week or so will see a flurry of enforcement. But by the time the weather turns chilly and smokers want to enjoy their coffee INSIDE the cafeteria, I'm pretty sure that the smoking ban will be relegated to the "Forgotten Promises" bin - along with the laws that require us to wear crash helmets on motorbikes, or seat belts in cars - only to be revived in a blitzkreig of enforcement a couple of times a year, when the authorities realise they're falling short of their Collected Fines target.

Meanwhile, my nervous nicotine-addict friends can relax for a little while yet. The weather is still warm and promises to stay mild well into November (oh, the glories of a Mediterranean climate!). And maybe a jump in sales of warm coats to enable them to enjoy their caffeine and tar fix when it gets wintry is just what the beleaguered economy needs?


  1. In England, this has spawned a whole new way of making friends, though - the people standing outside the bars and restaurants take real comfort in each other's suffering!

  2. It's the same here in Scotland. Everyone goes outside for their cig and they are still out there after they've finished having a natter. It's a bit like that episode of Friends where Rachel works at Ralph Lauren and takes up smoking so she doesn't miss out on the decision making. As an ex smoker I wasn't too fussed about the ban and mostly people have just accepted it now.

  3. The difference between Greece and northern Europe is that I believe that the ban will, in time, be largely ignored in most bars and cafeterias. And as for the bouzouki night-clubs? It's a raging certainty...

    I just can't see the Greeks buckling down to the ban and developing pavement social clubs for exiled smokers.

    Of course, I could be wrong - but I don't think so.

  4. It happened in Turkey last year, and I was persuaded people would ignore the ban - mostly they didn't though. People even started to sit outside to smoke, quite a feat, for Turkish people are keenly aware of the dangers of a draft!