Inside Track by Sarah Bridge
The news that last year Italy banned smoking from its many restaurants, bars, cafes and nightclubs and indeed, any public indoor spaces, still comes as a surprise to many. Of all European countries, Italy, with its high numbers of smokers, its fiercely independent attitude against government interference and its strong café culture was an unlikely candidate to pass some of the toughest anti-smoking laws in the world. Sitting in an Italian café a glass of wine e una sigaretta is the image that many people have of Italy's famed Dolce Vita - the sweet life. Smoking has been given a sexy and glamorous image by Italian film legends over the years, and ordinary Italians have followed their example: over a quarter of the adult population smokes, over 14m people. Aside from the smoking culture itself, Italy has a famously relaxed approach to obeying laws of any kind. Obeying the speed limit or even fastening your seatbelt while driving is simply unthinkable to many Italians - many observers said that anti-smoking legislation would be treated the same way. Yet since the beginning of January, Italy's 240,000 eating and drinking establishments have been subject to legislation that holds them accountable if a customer smokes a cigarette in their premises. Previous anti-smoking legislation passed by Italy's parliament did not set a particularly happy precedent. Smoking in airports was banned in 1975. However, the first cigarette on home soil for Italian smokers was often lit directly under the Vietate Fumare - No Smoking - signs in the airport's baggage claim area. Smoking was also prohibited in schools, hospitals, cinemas, museums, libraries and public transport. Another law in 1995, banning smoking in all public offices, aimed at protecting Italian employees from second-hand smoke, also did little to stop smoking in banks, offices and factories. A new law, increasing the smoking ban to bars and restaurants, and crucially, holding owners responsible for smoking on their premises, finally made it through parliament in 2003. The move was backed by surveys that showed that 83% of Italians were in favour of the new ban. The Italian market is fragmented. There are no 9,000-strong pub chains here. Practically every bar and restaurant is a separately-owned business. To get the overall effects of the ban, M&C Report talked to representatives of the two main bodies involved in reviewing the anti-smoking legislation: the Ministry of Health itself, and Federazione Italiano Pubblici Esercizi (the Italian Federation of Bars and Catering) or FIPE. FIPE is the leading trade association, representing 230,000 businesses including bars, restaurants and clubs, employing 750,000 people and accounting for €45bn of business. Before the ban, the government surveyed 1,600 premises that were going to be affected and found that 25% of owners were expecting financial losses, but only 11% reported significant financial losses afterwards. Obviously it remains to be seen what the effects of 'significant financial losses' will be in the long term. However 76% of owners reported positive feedback from customers after the ban. Support for the ban actually grew after it was implemented: 83.1% of people supported the ban in 2001, but now more than 90% support it. Between January and March 2005, 5,597 inspections were carried out by special corps of carabinieri, and just 272 fines, 4.9% of those inspected, were handed out, 89 to smokers and 183 to premises owners for not enforcing the law. The survey also found that 10% of owners had to ask customers to put out their cigarettes, with 2% of customers disagreeing and having to leave. As for the owners themselves, over half of them who smoked had either given up smoking themselves or were smoking less. However, due to the financial and logistical constraints in providing separate smoking areas, only 1% of premises have been able to, or chosen to, provide indoor smoking areas. Many bars and restaurants across Italy are in historic buildings, which makes planning permission difficult, while the small size of many of them make separate rooms impractical. Many are choosing instead to provide outdoor heating. According to a report published in November 2005 by the Italian Health Institute, customer numbers were slightly up after the ban. Just under 10% of those surveyed said that they went more frequently to bars and restaurants, while 7.4% said they went less frequently. These findings run slightly contrary to FIPE's own conclusions, particularly in the first few weeks of the ban. In a report published on 17 January 2005, called Nightclubs in difficulty it found that 54% of nightclubs found revenues to be down on comparable weeks since the smoking ban, while only 8.3% said there had been a positive effect. Nearly 70% said they had fewer customers. Of the people entering nightclubs being asked to extinguish their cigarettes, 16.7% in fact chose to go somewhere else instead. The majority of clubs, 78.3%, had to remind their customers of the new ban. It was a slightly happier situation in the restaurant industry - 80% of restaurants found that customer numbers were up or equal, split half and half between each, while 20% said they had lost sales. One in three restaurants, though, said that the smoking ban meant that customers drank or ate more. However, that was in the very first few weeks of the ban. Over the year, the FIPE's Edi Sommariva said greater difficulties were experienced at “young” venues, such as pubs and nightclubs, bingo halls and casinos. “For these in particular,” he says, “there has been a fall in the volume of business that in some cases has reached up to 20-25%.” According to FIPE, there have been no closures or job losses so far attributed to the smoking ban. According to Sommariva, the law was being respected by all - customers, owners and staff. “The smoking ban has not created tension between smoking and non-smoking customers, nor between customers and owners,” he says, attributing this to dropping the obligation from the law of owners to inform police about transgressions. The warm climate has helped, he says, as many places have outdoor seating. FIPE is calling for a review in the rules governing the provision of smoking rooms, saying that if the regulations are simplified, smokers' needs will be better met. For the majority of proprietors and workers, according to FIPE, the effect of the smoking ban has been to make a healthier and more pleasant environment. “In our country it is prohibited to smoke in all public places and so for the moment, it is not possible to get around the law by the way of loopholes,” says Sommeriva. “However, in places where it is difficult for the police to patrol, such as private groups, and in some workplaces, the ban is not always respected.” While just minutes after the ban come into force a smoker in Naples was fined for smoking in a bar, the government promised a light touch for the first few months, with police officers and health inspectors acting in an 'educational' role. The verdict from regulators and businesses alike, seems to be that the ban has gone better than expected. But there are worrying signs for those businesses most frequented by young people and only time will tell if that lost custom will return. This article is taken from a wide-ranging report on smoking from the publishers of M&C Report, William Reed Business Intelligence. For more information contact Keith Britten on 01293 610476