Canary Islands and Galicia were the first to ban smoking in public places where the minimum distance of 2 meters cannot be guaranteed. The scientific basis of the provision is shaky, but it is a way to discourage irresponsible behaviour. This provision had been introduced in Malta as well but was scrapped together with all the other preventive measures.

(photo: Getty Images)

A new squeeze on smoking in public places comes into force today in Spain in the Canary Islands , and has already been active since yesterday in Galicia , which no longer concerns only closed spaces but also outdoor areas . As announced by the newspaper  El Pais on the basis of the measures issued on a regional scale, the legislation was suggested by the Spanish public health authorities as a measure that – directly and indirectly – could slow down the spread of the Sars-Cov-2 infection . Within a few weeks, the country was in the midst of a new wave of infections , so much so that it has gone from a few hundred new cases a day in July to over a thousand in the last few days , yesterday setting a record of 2,935 new cases in just 24 hours.

Within the restrictions enacted to try to avert a further surge in hospitalisations and deaths, which also includes the obligation to wear a mask in all public places and the ban on gatherings of more than 10 people, especially the decision to limit the possibility of smoking. This is not a real ban, as many newspapers have headlined, but the introduction of a minimum safety distance that must also be kept on the street, in squares, bars, restaurants, terraces, on the beach, in gardens and in any other public place.

The limit is currently set at 2 meters , thus forcing you to significantly distance yourself from other people if you want to consume a cigarette, whether traditional or electronic. According to rumours in the press, other Spanish regions may soon adopt similar restrictions, including the cities of Madrid and Valencia . And of course the decision has sparked various controversies, both from smokers themselves and from the managers of bars and restaurants, who fear a further decline in customers .

The controversial scientific basis of the provision

According to the regional authorities who have established the new anti-contagion rules, and in particular to the experts of the clinical committee for the prevention of Covid-19, the droplets (the famous droplets ) that smokers would emit while exhaling the smoke , and thus hitting people within a short distance of a potentially virulent cloud of suspensions. According to a research conducted by the Spanish Ministry of Health and published in early July, in particular, there is a correlation between the spread of smoking and the frequency of contagion.

On this point, however, some perplexities remain, because there are no real scientific publications about it (and therefore it is not clear on the basis of what the distance of 2 meters has been defined) and above all the exhalation of a smoker is neither more powerful. nor richer in droplets  than that of a non-smoker, since the smoke particles do not in themselves act as a vehicle for the new coronavirus. Once the spacing rules already in force are respected, therefore, it is not clear why it is necessary to provide for a greater distance for smokers.

The (probable) real reasons for the squeeze on smoking

What prompted the Spanish authorities to include these unprecedented measures (only in South Africa, ad hoc restrictions on smoking have been in force since March ) was, in all probability, the desire to discourage other behaviours already prohibited by the prevention regulations. , but often reiterated by people despite the prohibitions. For example, some people have a tendency to take off the mask (just to be able to smoke) even in situations where they should continue to wear it, such as in a crowded street or moving between the outdoor tables of a bar.

Another determining factor, in this case to protect the smokers themselves, is that the habit of smoking involves bringing the hands to the face much more frequently , thus representing a risk of becoming infected. Between removing and putting on the mask, and especially with placing the cigarette between their lips, it is estimated that smokers bring their hands into contact with their face 200 to 300 times a day more than non-smokers, effectively exposing themselves to a much higher risk.

Touching the cigarette and the mask, then, are operations that should be carried out only after washing or disinfecting your hands, which does not always happen when you happen to light a cigarette – traditional or electronic, as well as for the very popular pipe – while you are outdoors. And the possibility of having someone else light your cigarette, perhaps crossed in the street or in any public place, can lead to close contacts that should be avoided.

Finally, the squeeze on smoking also seems to be an attempt to reduce the shared use of hookahs (very fashionable in Spanish bars and nightclubs) and to reduce the consumption of cigarettes: as is known , in fact, smokers have a greater risk of contract Covid-19 in a severe form (by 45% according to the Spanish authorities, and even more according to other scientific studies ) and to develop pneumonia that requires hospitalisation in intensive care .