The new smoking generation

The new smoking generation
A smoking ban in Sweden's cafés and restaurants has redefined the lives of smokers and non-smokers alike, writes Peter Vinthagen Simpson.

Taking a walk through Stockholm’s streets has changed dramatically in recent years. The introduction of a café and restaurant smoking ban in Ireland’s footsteps in the summer of 2005 has pushed the people out onto the streets. Everywhere you walk there are small huddles of people sharing a moment with their little filter-tipped sticks of pleasure.

A recent visit to Paris made clear that this is more than simply a Swedish phenomenon. It began with Ireland, in March 2004, and in January this year the smoking ban reached the capital of café decadence and the non-filter Gitanes. A night on the tiles in the lively Oberkampf district was not what I had expected – the pubs were half empty. Their customers were on the streets in small groups enjoying a moment, and a cigarette, with their friends.

How has the ban in Sweden affected bars and clubs, and has the No Smoking Generation become the New Smoking Generation?

In the long dark winter months — before the sun claws its way above the quaint low-rise skyline – Stockholm is a deserted place. At least streetside. Sure you will see the odd frost-bitten soul rushing from the metro to work and the sanctuary of the warmth inside. But for the most part the city’s residents go underground and Stockholm takes on a calm and tranquility that its watery setting affords.

Except for the smokers. They have no choice. No longer welcome in the bars and cafés they are forced to take to the streets to feed their frowned-upon habit. They can often be seen without coats and hats puffing away to get that nicotine fix in record time before their index and middle-fingers become inseparable from their cigarettes. The hassle of checking out their coats and checking them back in is too much for those just nipping out for a quick fag.

Bars and cafés strive to make life a little more comfortable for their smoking guests, and chairs and tables often remain on the pavement long after they would otherwise have been stored away for the season. Outdoor areas get quickly filled up with smokers who wrap themselves in the blankets provided and huddle under the gas heaters that help to push the temperature gauge a notch above zero.

So what do they talk about? What are those that don’t smoke missing out on? The two groups are now more divided than ever before and we are seeing the emergence of a New Smoking Generation when the idea of the ban was to push for a No Smoking Generation. Non-smokers who want to join the crowd are obliged to weather the cold and the discomfort for no immediately apparent reason.

In conversations with smokers since the ban was introduced I have seldom heard anyone complain. Many like the opportunity to take a break from a conversation, go out and gather their thoughts. Many no longer smoke in their own homes and there are regular reports in the media of neighbourly complaints preventing smokers from lighting up on their balconies.

There is a celebrated Friends sketch when Rachel takes up smoking so as not to miss out on the important decisions being taken by her boss and co-workers out on the terrace. Her boss tries to get her to quit and Rachel is left in a dilemma. Does the smoking ban encourage people to quit or has it had the opposite effect and encouraged people, like Rachel, to take up the habit for fear of missing out and being excluded?

The phrase No Smoking Generation refers to the future, to a new generation of parents with one less thing to worry about as their children grow towards puberty. According to (International Network of Women Against Tobacco), by age 16 almost a third of Swedish girls are considered smokers.

Judging by the huddles of teenage girls filling up the tables outside Stockholm’s many cafés, the lure of the Marlboro Man persists. The thought dawns on me that in the near future I will have a game of cat and mouse to play with my daughters, who will doubtless try the line: ”I don’t smoke, but many of my friends do.”