A Blue and Bluer Smokescreen

Austria feels a sense of pride when it comes to being what they call nostalgic about the past and going against the mainstream. The rest of the world calls it being backward.

In 2015, the Austrian government at the time passed a law that would finally take Austria to the same progressive level as the majority of Western countries: banning smoking in bars, restaurants and clubs. However, it wouldn't be Austria if things were that simple. The government gave establishments over 2 years to prepare for the law to come into effect - May 2018 - which would fall under the legislative period of the next government. I was very happy about the law as I am one of those 'annoying' people who get a headache and burning eyes as well as the urge to cough as soon as I am exposed to smoke. At the same time, I thought the long time before the law actually will be enacted may be problematic as the new government may have other ideas. It turned out that I was right... and in this case, I wish I would have been wrong.

Just a few weeks ago, the coalition government of the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ - party-color is blue) known for being right-wing and anti-immigrant and the party of the blue collar worker; and the Austrian People's Party (ÖVP - previously the 'black' party but just before the election they recolored themselves to turquoise to match their new anti-immigrant leanings and their coalitions partner's color; of course that is my interpretation, their reasoning was to rebrand themselves as younger and hipper) overturned the smoking ban and upheld the current regulation of seperate smoking and non-smoking areas in restaurants and bars. Their justification was that on the one hand 'hospitality' and allowing the owners of those establishments to do what they want with their property and that it generally would hurt business.

Although there are now plenty of studies that show that businesses don't lose customers when banning smoking and that separate rooms don't work as there is cross contamination, the turquoise party chose to appease the blue party in order to get other concessions during coalition negotiations - at the cost of public health. Those in favor of course immediately did their victory dance of "well, just don't go where smokers are". I personally take offense to this statement because it is IMPOSSIBLE to avoid smoke in the city, therefore, I thought, I give some examples to illustrate this issue.

In the morning, I wake up from the whiff of smoke that comes through the bedroom window because most neighbors are smokers.
I should move somewhere else you say? Well, this is my 4th apartment in this city in almost 7 years of living here and I had the same issue in every apartment. And if I were to keep the windows closed, I would not be able to sleep.

When I leave my apartment for work and walk to the elevator, I have to walk through a hallway and take an elevator that smells of smoke because some neighbors smoke while being in the hallway or leave their apartment doors open while they smoke to 'air out' their place. Smoking is officially not allowed in the common area of the building but one neighbor is a particular offender and doesn't give a shit about rules.
I should talk to him and ask him to be more considerate you say?
I am 5'1" and he is a mean looking old man. I am fairly certain I know how that conversation would end - with more smoke!

Next, I head out the door of the apartment building where the employees of the shop next door smoke before they start their workday. And no, there is no second entrance/exit to the apartment building. I go to the subway entrance which is a flight of stairs down underground. The stairway is flanked left and right with people smoking their last cigarette before heading downstairs exposing me to smoke for the 4th time before 8:30 AM.
I should use a different subway entrance you say?
Yes, there is one indeed but it is also lined with smokers every morning.

I get off at the subway exit near work. The people with a strong addiction already light a cigarette on the stairs that lead to the outside. The smoke hits everyone on the stairs behind them. Once upstairs, there is again the line of smokers that are about the head downstairs taking their last drags. I walk towards the crosswalk that I have to take to reach the office. The crosswalk is at the end of a very narrow bridge. The space is confined by concrete pillars. Every morning, about 50% of the people waiting with me on the narrow bridge waiting for the light of the crosswalk to turn green smoke. And no, there is absolutely no other spot within a 100 meters to cross the street.
When I get to my office building, the entrance is surrounded by people who work in the building who finish their cigarettes before going inside. Some even have a cup of coffee in their second hand, showing that they are in no hurry.
I should use a different building entrance you say?
I tried. I really tried. EVERY SINGLE entrance has a group of smokers standing outside. And as the doors keep being opened and closed every 2 minutes, the smoke from the outside fills the lobby and consequently fills the stairway and elevators of the building as well.

Once I am in my own little, smoke-free office, I open the window every morning and after lunch because I suffer from a dust mites allergy and that requires frequent airing of any space I am in. Guess what? Because my office is on the first floor, the smoke from the smokers that are by the entrance (and there are some throughout the day) comes in through my window. Within seconds, my small office space fills up with smoke stench resembling the smell of a bar at 2 AM.
By the way, smoke also makes my dust mites allergy significantly worse.

This is the sequence of events every single morning - and in reverse on the way home.

Therefore, it would have been nice to at least be able to go to a restaurant or a bar without needing to call ahead if they are completely non-smoking. My own field study has thought me a long time again what recent official studies confirmed: separations between smoking and non-smoking areas in restaurants/bars don't work. I started going only to completely non-smoking places - luckily there are more and more; even in the ashtray of Europe that is Austria.



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