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The difference a day can make

“DOCTOR AT SEA” a monthly Column in The Islander Magazine

The difference a day can make

We spent our first Christmas-New Year on the Island this year and were able to see first-hand how Mallorca behaves at this time of year. It was a great time for us because all our expected family guests were able to reach us at the planned times despite severe snow in England and visa uncertainties from some other far-flung places.

Some of us got rid of a few calories on New Year’s Day by walking briskly down to the sea and back from Estellencs on the west coast then we drove on in a search for more calories to sustain us. Most of the promising places were shut for the holiday but Esporles turned up trumps. We enjoyed a very late lunch of some traditional Mallorquin fare as a reward for our efforts but noticed that every table had at least one person smoking. This was the day before the smoking ban and the day does seem to have made a big difference.

As from midnight on January 2, Spain has approved a tough new anti-smoking law meaning that bars, restaurants, discos, casinos and airports will be no-smoking zones. Smokers will also not be allowed to light up on television broadcasts, as well as at playgrounds and access points to schools and hospitals

The new law tightens restrictions introduced in 2006 by forbidding smoking in any enclosed public space. While the 2006 anti-smoking law prohibited smoking in the workplace, it came under fire for letting bar and restaurant owners choose whether or not to allow smoking and many permitted it. This compromise situation over the past five years has prompted cynicism amongst some of my Spanish friends that a firm legal position on smoking would not stick but the response so far is very clear-cut.

Ash trays have disappeared inside restaurants and there is no smoking indoors. The response is no doubt encouraged by the prospect of fines that range from a modest 30 euros to 600,000 euros!

We got a warm welcome in Esporles and decided to go back to the restaurant at some stage but maybe the smokers will be outside next time – or maybe they will not eat in restaurants as much? This possible downturn in trade on top of the effect of the recession is a fear voiced by many businesses and borne out by business closures in UK and Eire following strict anti-smoking legislation. The big advantage in Spain must be the warm sunny climate which makes sitting outside reasonably pleasant on many days of the year.

Smoking-related deaths in Spain are put at 160 per day, including 4 per day due to passive smoking. The Spanish Health Minister states that 70% of Spaniards are non-smokers and argues that they will enjoy the cleaner air – let’s hope that will limit the downturn in business. Eating in a restaurant without sharing someone’s cigarette must be an improvement especially for non-smokers and I get interesting comments from ex-smokers as they adjust to life without cigarettes – for example, the realisation that cigarette smoke makes their clothes smell.

The major health benefits will take longer to feed through but experience proves that any group that stops smoking does experience a reduction in smoking-related illnesses such as lung cancer and heart disease over the subsequent 10 to 20 years. After the Second World War researchers in Britain looked at 40,000 UK doctors, their lifestyle including smoking habits, and their future incidence of lung cancer. The results demonstrated the very strong link with lung cancer and many doctors decided to stop smoking so that, as an occupation group, they were the first to reap the benefit in terms of reduced incidence of lung cancer and cardiovascular ill-health.

Change does not come easily but by 2012 all EU 27 Member States will have banned smoking in enclosed spaces so it seems the day had to come – what a difference a day can make!


Dr Ken Prudhoe, MCA Approved Doctor, can be contacted at Club de Mar Medical Centre, Palma de Mallorca.