Thursday, April 3, 2008

Smoking in Europe

One of the things that really bothered us about moving to Europe was the lack of smoking restrictions in restaurants, cafes and bars. It was interesting because it did not bother my wife until she spent 6-months in San Francisco - then she understood!

However, since we moved back to Europe in 2005, countries have gradually been imposing bans. The big surprise is really how few problems these have caused. I could never imagine Italy or France without a cloud of smoke - but they have done a pretty good job.

In contrast, Austria and Switzerland, two places where you might think clean air was popular, have not been able to pass effective national regulations. In Austria the debate has degenerated into absurdity and is now a pawn in the larger coalition government party free-for-all. Imagine the Health Minister arguing for weaker regulations and suggesting that the regulations not go into effect for 4-5 years!

Happily both the Swiss National Railways and Austrian National Railway are now completely smoke free. The story in Switzerland is especially interesting. In about October 2005, I read a story in the SBB's customer magazine (VIA) saying that the SBB was considering when to ban smoking and probably it would be done by 2011 or 2012. Then, on about December 1, the SBB announced that all trains would be smoke-free starting December 12. They also did a great advertising campaign with posters like a cowboy on a horse lighting-up while the train left the station. (I will try to find links.)

Anyway, about six months later I read an article saying that the SBB had received about 100 complaints (!!), essentially none about the change. Oh, and they saved millions of Swiss Francs in costs.

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