| Updated at: 1918 PST, Sunday, January 02, 2011|
MADRID: Smokers stubbed out their cigarettes in tapas bars and restaurants across Spain as one of Europe's strictest anti-tobacco laws came into force on Sunday.
After a one-day amnesty granted for New Year's Day, the new law banning smoking in all bars, restaurants and public places -- including even some outdoor areas -- took effect at the stroke of midnight Saturday.
It was a shock for many Spaniards for whom the cafe culture -- lighting up with a few friends while enjoying a drink and tapas -- has been an essential part of daily life.
"It is over already. We have taken away all the ashtrays. When you look at the health question I agree but I also think there should be a minimum zone where you are allowed to smoke," said Elena de Lucia, a 22-year-old waitress, and smoker, at the Variety Tavern, a pub in central Madrid.
Her fellow weekend bar worker, Cristina Madrid, 22, a non-smoker, welcomed the new law. "Really, I used to end up smoking a lot as a passive smoker and the next day it affects you," she said.
Spain had an anti-smoking law since January 2006 but the impact was barely noticeable.
It banned smoking in the workplace, on public transport and in shops. But it allowed owners of bars, restaurants and cafes to decide whether to ban smoking or not. Most, faced with a drop in business, naturally chose to permit their customers to light up.
The new law bans smoking in all enclosed public spaces, including bars, restaurants and nightclubs and makes it illegal to smoke in children's parks or anywhere on school or hospital grounds.
Cafes, bars and restaurants carried notices on the doors and windows such as "Smoke-Free Area. No Smoking" or showed a lighted cigarette with a red line across it.
Cafes in Madrid's old town Sunday morning were busy with people drinking coffee and eating churros, a traditional breakfast of a coiled fritter of fried dough -- but smokers were nowhere to be seen.
"It is too soon, we are waiting to see how this is going to work," said the duty manager at the Cafe de San Millan, Jose.
One smoker who tried to light up was reminded by a waiter that is was no longer permitted.
Another customer, French tourist Lionel Roesel, said he thought Spaniards would have harder time accepting the new restrictions than French citizens when a similar law took effect there two years ago.