Three years ago, Ireland made news by becoming the first country to ban smoking in all enclosed public spaces. Critics said businesses (pubs in particular) would suffer. They envisioned floods of people crossing nightly into Northern Ireland, which had no such ban, to enjoy cigarettes with their pints. It turns out the border crossings never occurred, at least not to a significant degree. This April, Northern Ireland is enacting a similarly strict smoking ban of its own.
Tough new restrictions on smoking are popping up all over. At press time there were bans in most public buildings in 22 U.S. states (though some have loopholes for casinos and places where minors aren't allowed). Hong Kong, Puerto Rico, and the British Virgin Islands have also passed antismoking legislation.
The most interesting developments, however, are in Europe--where it once seemed impossible to find a café that wasn't filled with clouds of smoke. Even France, the grande dame of café culture, has jumped on the antismoking bandwagon. A ban on smoking in all offices, stores, museums, and train and bus stations went into effect in February, and lighting up won't be permitted in restaurants, bars, or cafés as of January 1, 2008.
Unfortunately, in many hotels it's possible to get stuck with a room that smells like an ashtray, even if you request a nonsmoking room. One way to guarantee a night without cigarette odors is to stay in a hotel that's entirely smoke-free. Last year, Westin's 77 North American properties banned smoking, as did all Marriott hotels in the U.S. and Canada. To find properties with similar bans, use the special "Smoke-Free Hotels" search feature at booking engine Quikbook, or try the websites smoke-freehotels.com and freshstay.com. As of now, most properties listed on the websites are in North America, but the trend is sure to spread across the Atlantic and beyond.
1. No smoking: Strict bans are in effect in office buildings and public places that include museums, stores, and train stations (see "So What Exactly Is a 'Public Place'?" below). Smoking is also banned in all parts of restaurants, bars, and cafés.
2. Smoking in certain areas: Smoking is outlawed in all of the same places as above, though cafés, bars, and restaurants may have designated smoking sections.
3. Smoking in small cafés and bars: Most enclosed public places ban smoking; the exceptions are tiny eating and drinking establishments. In Belgium, for instance, there's a loophole for cafés, restaurants, and bars of less than 50 square meters.
4. Smoking in restaurants is fine: Smoking is not allowed in most workplaces, as well as in public places such as movie theaters and train stations. But restaurants, cafés, and bars have few or no restrictions on smoking.
5. Smoke 'em if you got 'em: There are few regulations, if any, on where you can light up. Switzerland, for example, outlaws smoking only on public transportation.
So what exactly is a "Public Place"? The phrase public place, which appears often in antismoking legislation, generally means museums, theaters, hospitals, schools, restaurants, bars, and shops--basically everywhere indoors other than hotel rooms and private residences. In many countries, smoking is also banned in outdoor areas like train stations, bus stops, pedestrian tunnels, and open-air sports arenas.
Each country's rules are a little different. On public transportation in Portugal, smoking is outlawed during trips that last under an hour, but is acceptable on longer journeys. In the Czech Republic and Slovakia, there's no smoking in restaurants during mealtimes, but lighting up is fine during certain afternoon and late evening hours. Latvia lets municipalities decide whether to restrict smoking at public parks, squares, and beaches.