More than Hot Air: European Smoking Laws

Posted in: Practical Info


No smoking!
No smoking sign in France. Photo by bishop

By Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries—

During a day or two in a small town in the Czech Republic this summer, we noticed a local gently chiding two tourists for smoking while standing at a bus stop in a small village. The lady’s reprimand was delivered in the politest possible way, and clearly no offence was taken. The two visitors promptly stubbed out their cigarettes.

A smoke-free Europe?

It was a quiet reminder that European practice with regard to smoking in public places and on transportation still varies widely. And it made us realise just how hard the whole area is for outsiders to fathom. The Czech Republic allows smoking in bars but not at bus stops. In Lithuania it is vice versa.

National exceptions

Hop onto many Finnish long-distance trains and you’ll still find a spot where you can smoke. True, it’ll not be an especially comfortable corner, more like a padded cell with industrial-strength exhaust ventilation. But Finland is very much an exception, for across much of Europe smoking has been banned on all trains for many years. Indeed, Norway banned smoking on all public transportation way back in 1988.

Differences within a country

Trains are one thing, but stations quite another. Try and light up on a Swiss train and the chances are that you’ll quickly be told to desist. Yet you can smoke to your heart’s content on Swiss station platforms. Shift to Germany and the smoking ban extends to most areas of railway stations too, yet some German trains (smoking banned on them too of course) make special stops at obscure railway stations so that smokers can puff away for ten minutes on platforms where in theory lighting up is banned.

Law vs common practice

This little tale highlights just how complex the topic is. The rules vary widely between different European countries, and even between different parts of the same country. And the law and popular practice often differ too. The smoking ban that is sacrosanct in one country is widely ignored elsewhere. The only sound advice we can really give to smokers is ‘If in doubt, ask.’ But the trend is very definitely towards a smoke-free Europe.

About the author


About the authors: Nicky and Susanne manage a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine.

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2 thoughts on “More than Hot Air: European Smoking Laws”

  1. Tom
    Thanks. That’s very interesting. Perhaps no surprise that folk were still lighting up in Spanish bars and cafés as we don’t think there is any overall ban there. May be absolutely wrong, but we think the situation in Spain is that smoking is banned on all trains, but not on open station platforms (so a parallel with Switzerland there) and that only in the larger indoor cafés and restaurants is there a smoking ban, although it is of course open to individual owners of other (viz. smaller) establishments to implement a no-smoking policy on their own premises. We recall seeing some time ago a news story that suggested that legislation has been passed in Spain to introduce a nationwide ban on smoking in cafés and restaurants from early 2011. But as you so rightly observe, the introduction of a ban does not mean it is universally respected (just as some folk ignore speed limits). Thanks for the good comment.

  2. Hi Nicky and Susanne,

    Thanks for your interesting piece. I’ve just returned from two weeks in Portugal and Spain. While bars and restaurants were smoke-free in Lisbon, I was rather surprised to find everyone still lighting up in Spanish bars and cafes.

    Regarding transportation, smoking was forbidden on the high-speed train between Madrid and Cordoba, although in the station smokers did step out onto the platform to light up. When the train was ready to continue on to Malaga, however, the conductor blew a whistle and motioned to everyone to hop back on board.

    Also, as I was updating our hotel reviews for Lisbon and Madrid, I was interested in smoking policies in the hotels. In Lisbon, the hotels are all non-smoking, while smaller pensions still allow smoking. In Madrid, hotels still have smoking rooms (and indeed, it seems that most rooms can be smoking rooms).

    For more on this, check out this list of smoking bans. It seems that Spain has a ban in place, but many cities are not enforcing the laws:



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