03 March 2023

Smoking and rules

Do you know someone who has not smoked for a lifetime, so the pure non-smoker? I don't, and I don't even know anyone who knows anyone else who has never smoked. In my opinion, the group of pure non-smokers is still small, but when I look at the effects of the anti-smoking policy, I am positive and convinced that there will be a generation in which no one has ever smoked. A trend not only in the Netherlands, but also worldwide.

This year I am 65 years old. Despite the fact that I have not smoked for decades, I am not a pure non-smoker. In my teens we - chatters and street buddies, rascals and other rabble - met in a bicycle shed of the local primary school. As a minor loitering youth, we could buy smoking products by claiming in the store that it was for our parents, or we got it from a vending machine. 

Smoking was tempting, it was tough and it gave us status. Our educators advised us not to smoke, but we were easily tempted and just did it secretly. My parents promised me a hundred guilders (50 euros) if I hadn't smoked before my eighteenth birthday. I remember responding to that with the words: “The first thing I buy with that hundred guilders is a pack of cigarettes.” Yes, I could be a bit of a rebel.

But hey, who will not recognize it; we could easily get cigarettes. They were there with and without menthol flavor, or we bought tobacco that we called shag. It was usually Samson or Drum brand. We learned how to use rolling papers from Mascotte or Rizla - with or without adhesive edge - to make "butts". Something that - just like cycling and skating - you will never forget.

Dutch smoking space

Smoking was trendy. We were allowed to smoke since childhood. The cigarettes were in the living room on the table in a glass and the visitors were welcome to light one. Smoking on TV shows and in movies was normal. Smoking was allowed in the train and other public places. Small areas were reserved for non-smokers. Smoking was allowed in restaurants. There was even a time when smoking was allowed on the plane and in the cinema during the movie. That was, I believe, prohibited at the time because of the fire risk and not primarily for health reasons. We can hardly imagine it today. Smoking was slowly but surely elevated to an accepted and apparently permanent phenomenon.

And now, in 2023, this accepted phenomenon appears not to be permanent. In a few decades, the Netherlands, among other countries, have succeeded in turning the situation around. Although smoking is still not completely banned, it is in every public areas. The packaging of smoking materials has warnings and horrible images on it. Smoking materials may no longer be sold everywhere and may not be visibly displayed. Cigarette vending machines have disappeared from the streets and sales to young people are also prohibited. Although I fully agree with this kind of discouragement, I can also imagine that the smoker is gradually feeling like a pariah.

Maltese smoking space

Also on the beautiful island of Malta - where I live - the government is developing a smoking policy. I don't know exactly what the rules within that policy are, or maybe no one in Malta knows. Anyway, sometimes I have to chuckle at the (smoking) behavior of the Maltese. So typically Mediterranean, where people interpret the rules in their own favor and on the other hand are also tolerant and look for a solution that fits well with the group you are part of at that moment. If you are not part of that group, you will have to live with the solution accepted by the group at the time. As a foreigner - better described as an outsider - that means that you have to learn to adapt. In the years that I have lived here, it has made me milder and less rebellious against notorious violators of decency standards and official rules.

And what about Malta's smoking policy? The basic premise is that smoking is allowed everywhere in Malta, except in public places. There are, however, some ambiguities. Smoking is not allowed on the bus, while it is tolerated at the bus stop. Smoking is not allowed in bars and restaurants, at least not inside the building. 

Smoking is allowed outside on the terrace of the restaurant, or the bar, if that terrace is not covered. Smoking on a covered terrace is tolerated in some places when it rains. Fortunately, it rarely rains here. And then there are also the establishments that have a terrace that is not only covered, but is also closed off from the outside air by vertical plastic walls. Sometimes you can and sometimes you can't smoke there. Well, quite arbitrary and therefore plenty of material for interpretation and discussion. Moreover, smoking in bars and restaurants is hardly enforced, if at all, with the result that more and more interpretations of the rules arise and a minority still adheres to the official rules.

Interesting situations

Some examples of my experiences of how Malta deals with the rules regarding smoking in bars and restaurants.
  • I am in a restaurant and sitting at a table outside on the terrace. The terrace is closed with a roof. According to the applicable rules, smoking is not allowed on such a terrace. A few tables away on a terrace area that is not closed off with a roof and where smoking is therefore allowed, is a pleasant group of people. At one point a number of people get up and stand next to my table to light a cigarette. When asked, I understand that there are two people at their table who do not want smoking there.
    The most striking thing for me is that people really think it's normal and that I should allow them to smoke next to my table. Well, it takes getting used to.
  • I'm sitting somewhere on a terrace of a restaurant and I'm in the covered part. According to the applicable rules, smoking is not allowed there. Someone asks me if I want to share my table with him. It's busy and I'm fine with that, but ask not to smoke. He declines my offer and looks for another table. Then it suddenly starts to rain and everyone hurries under the covered terrace. Also the person who just asked me if I wanted to share my table with him and I accepted that if no smoking. However, when it rained and everyone wanted to shelter, the same person plopped down at my table and lit a cigarette without asking. I'm learning to live with it and I don't have a negative opinion about this way of dealing with each other. I do find it interesting and fascinating to see how this happens.
  • Then there are the smokers who are not allowed to smoke at their table inside and therefore come outside to stand there and smoke between the people sitting outside on the terrace. That is allowed if the outside part of the terrace is not covered, but it still looks strange.
The way in which rules for smoking in bars and restaurants are dealt with here are half-hearted. It's in two minds. And you know, I think it's all fine too, because in this country, this beautiful Malta, you can still come up with something yourself and work around the rules in all kinds of areas. Here there are many rules too, but little enforcement. That feels like freedom. Things are often poorly organized here, or even not arranged at all, but then there is not always an institution on your neck that asks difficult questions.

It reminds me of my teenage years, where I could also mess around with the rules and where the family as an institution had an important value, but where, as long as I didn't do stupid things, I could go my own way.

© Markant / March 2023 

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