The Lonely Planet calls Austria “the last bastion of smoking” and, very disappointingly, you can still smoke in a lot of pubs and cafes in Vienna. If a place is larger than a certain size it has to have a dedicated non smoking section. Establishments even have the choice to be totally non smoking. But there are plenty of interesting, tiny places in Vienna that are so small they are not required by law to have two sections. A lot of them have opted to be totally smoking.
If most places have separate sections, then what am I complaining about? As many of us know from bygone days in the UK the non smoking section is usually in the ugliest part of an establishment, or the partition between smoking and non smoking is so wholly inadequate that it reeks.
Many office buildings here still have smoking rooms which basically stink out the whole corridor or make the people who emerge from then smell so bad they might as well be giant, walking cigarettes. I’ve met lots of students who like to smoke and like to be able to smoke in pubs. They bemoan the separate sections, saying that it separates groups of friends. Do you know what also separates groups of friends? That’s right; lung cancer. Apart from the obvious health risks, I find it all terribly old fashioned that smoking would be so protected. The stance on smoking has been linked back to culture. Friends have told me that it’s “so Austrian” for them to reject the moves that most of Europe has followed because they don’t want to be like everybody else; but more so, they don’t like to be told what to do. ‘People should decide for themselves’ is the justification I most often hear in relation to the smoking rules. Others simplify the argument and say it’s simply because, for Austrians, drinking and smoking cannot be separated; it would be like a sausage without mustard. Culturally for me, a smoky pub equals a blast from the past and seems a little, well, backwards.
I know lots of people who decide whether to go on a night out depending on the smoking status of the venue. The first thing I do when in need of a drink or bite to eat is look for the red and green sign on the door which announces whether it is totally smoking, totally non smoking, or a mixture of both. I have made a point of lingering so that hopeful waiting staff come out and ask if we are coming in and then walk away when we discover it is smoking. Things will only change when business suffers as well as health.
Last weekend was a bit of a victory; the nice pub down the road that we hadn’t been to for a while because the non smoking section was small, always packed and in the least atmospheric part of the pub, had swapped the sections and now dedicates most space to non smokers. It was a happy day for me in the Fischer Brau, and I also think the bar staff, the people who are never mentioned in this smoking debate, must appreciate the lack of fog around the bar.