There are two approaches to everything, aren't there?
Do you remember those days when you were a kid and you'd wear a plaster over the grazed knee you'd picked up on the playground.
And now it was time for it to come off so you were tugging away at it, but not too hard, because the edge of the plaster was stuck on a few hairs and, for ten minutes, you were peeling it off carefully centimeter by centimeter but, over several stages, it was hurting like hell anyway.
And then your mum would come in to the room and say (in that annoying "mother knows best" voice that you hated) that she was going to rip it off in one foul swoop because that was the "least painful way, dear.".
And you'd look at her in horror as if she'd lost her last crumb of sanity, and you'd say "Over my dead body, mother dear!"
And then she'd point out of the window and say "Look, at that poodle outside. My Lord, it's got 6 legs!" And you, because you could not believe your own flesh and blood would lie to you, would foolishly follow her finger with your gaze.
And while you were distracted she'd rip the damned plaster from your knee and it would hurt so much that suddenly tears were in your eyes.
But it was over and you could move on and finally forget your knee. And while you were suitably appalled at her treacherous mendacity concerning the canine leg-count, you think maybe she had a point about the pain.
A New Reality
Perhaps that would have been the way to deal with the Rauchverbot?
Modern thinking on the necessity of protecting workers but also guests against passive smoke has changed; and, with countries like Turkey, Greece and Croatia already committing to a smoke free future, few figures in politics or gastronomy really believe anyone will be smoking in European bars by, say, the end of 2011.
Faced with this new reality, there has been a split in the way governments have approached the question. Countries like Italy and France decided to quickly rip the plaster off while Germany and particularly Austria seem to have gone for the peeling option.
And this, according to Bettina Fernsebner-Kokert of Der Standard, is the result:
"Wenn das erst ein paar Tage alte Rauchverbot in Lokalen bereits einen Effekt zeigt, dann den, dass alle angefressen sind. Raucher, Nichtraucher und die Wirte genauso, und das zu Recht."
Tugging at the Plaster
We've been tugging at the plaster for 50 years now.
If you take a step back and look at over the past half century, there is a clear progression that you could mark on a graph but each step has been accompanied by a little yelp.
Each development has been heralded as the end of the cultural world as we know it, but it's consoling to see how quickly we adapt.
I saw some footage dating from the 1960's on Bavarian television where commuters were confronted by TV journalists with the imminent ban on smoking in trams. Some complained that it was clear case of Bevormundung, others asserted that puffing in the tram was one of their inalienable rights. The smokers claimed they would go to the barricades if the government dared impose this legislation. I don't believe they were exaggerating for the sake of drama - that's how they sincerely felt. But nowadays only very few people in Europe see it as an infringement on their rights that they can't smoke in a tram. Thinking has moved on. It always does.
A few weeks later I was in the surreal situation of sitting in the cinema watching a scene set in a cinema. The film was set in the 1970's. On screen, people were smoking in the cinema hall. Around me some people tittered in awe like latter-day Beavis and Buttheads. It seemed almost unthinkable to be able to smoke inside the cinema, whereas a few decades ago it seemed unthinkable not to.
So attitudes towards acceptability and inevitable of passive smoke have been changing for a long time. But after 2004 that development has speeded up exponentially since Ireland put the cat amongst the pigeons by showing that passive smoking in bars and restaurants was no longer a necessary evil for those who have to work there.
The big question since then for politicians has been this: do you embrace the development and make it your own, or do you treat it as a foreign entity and follow behind with your heels dug reluctantly in the dirt?
I've always known New York, where I spent some time as a student, as a "Yes we can/Ahead of the Game/Only Losers Stand Still" sort of place. So I wasn't particularly surprised that that city was one of the first places to not only adopt rigorous passive-smoke protection but then to champion the move as its own. If you heard the New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg touting tobacco legislation in Berlin last year, you'd be forgiven for thinking that he had dreamed up the whole concept up himself.
"This law is not a prohibitionist law"
Italy was a surprise though, wasn't it? Not just because a country with a relatively high proportion of smokers was among the first countries to adopt a strict blanket ban, but because the ban was not only obeyed (unlike many traffic regulations!) but has also proved widely popular. Public opinion poll has shown that 83 percent of Italians were in favour of the new ban at the time of its introduction and that figure has only risen since.
Maybe it's a question of leadership. Many Italians I've spoken to put that down to Health Minister Girolamo Sirchia's marketing of the law.
"This law is not a prohibitionist law;" he said, "we don't prohibit smokers from smoking, we just ask for the protection of nonsmokers,".
To The Bitter End
Although I am always surprised when people who describe themselves as progressive defend the status quo so vehemently, resistance to change has its undeniable attractions - also for guests in this country. I have a friend who writes tourist guide-books. He surprises himself at how often he uses the expression "timeless charm" to describe features of Austria, such as Café Hawelka.
I fully recognize that many people admire the authorities' defence of a smoking culture in defiance of modern trends. You don't have to do something just because everyone else is doing it, of course. But if you are one of those who admires that spirit, you have to hope the government will and can stick to its guns until the bitter end on this one.
If on the other hand, Austria arrives grumbling at the same blanket ban destination as the rest of Europe with just a two or three year time lag, and that is what most people expect, hasn't all this arguing, all this ventilation-building, all this glass-wall erecting, all this tugging at the plaster been a huge waste of time, money, effort and, potentially, people's lives?
(One out of two teens and adults smokes in Austria, one of the highest smoking rates in Europe. In 2007, 14,000 people died from smoking-related diseases out of an overall population of 8.2 million. In the same year, 686 people died on Austrian roads)
This isn't, of course, my country (although it will probably be that of my children) so the only purpose or justification of writing on this subject is to offer an outsiders' viewpoint, acknowledge my status as a non-voting outsider, and provoke your discussion. I won't be able to reply because I will be up a mountain and far from the worldwide web. So to borrow a phrase from the poet Eminem "don't think I do that intentionally just to diss you."
Nichtrauchergesetz Alexandra Augustin und Irmgard Wutscher haben rauchende Juristen wie nichtrauchende Gastronomen zum Thema befragt. Mehr dazu heute Nachmittag in FM4 Connected (15-19).