Barcelona has long had a problem with noise pollution. In the narrow cobbled streets of the Barri Gòtic, where thousands live above bars and clubs, angry residents – desperate for a good night’s sleep – bombard noisy weekend revellers with water bombs, eggs and worse. Now thanks to the smoking ban, neighbours no longer have to wait for closing time or Saturday nights to get in some target practice.
Smokers have nowhere to go but the street for a nicotine fix since the smoking ban came into force on January 2nd. All well and good you may say, if it means you can see your hand in front of your face while you enjoy a drink and your clothes don’t smell like you’ve wiped the ashtrays with them, but are the neighbours quite so happy?
In a country where a reported 29% of the population light up, groups of law-abiding smokers are now going outside for a cigarette. Walk down any street in the city and you’ll see them, puffing away and putting the world to rights while they do it, and therein lies the problem. The sociable Catalans don’t smoke in silence.
In chilly January when windows are firmly closed to keep in the heat, local residents don’t have too much to gripe about. But come the spring, when temperatures start to rise and balcony doors are flung open, the streets are likely to become a battleground between fractious egg-throwing grandmothers in their nighties and the puffing hordes below.
So what will the town hall do about it? In the past they’ve caved in to residents’ demands and closed down bars and clubs that make too much noise – the Raval’s historic dancehall La Paloma being just one example.
Long-suffering bar owners – many of whom are still out of pocket from installing air conditioning and no-smoking areas when legislation was changed in 2005 – can hardly be punished for sending smokers out to the street. But punished they will be if noise complaints close them down or if the Catalans, like the English, decide to stay at home and drink. As has been seen in the UK, bars without customers don’t stay open for long.
From the bohemian hangouts of Gràcia to the modernista masterpieces of the Eixample, where hams hang above the old men sneaking a drop of rum into their early morning coffee, Barcelona boasts a quirky bar on practically every corner. If they are lost, the city council marketing department will have a hard time promoting Barcelona as one of the nightlife capitals of Europe.
My prediction for 2011? A ban on smoking may prove to be more dangerous to the city’s health than the evil weed itself.