The Spanish region of Galicia has effectively banned smoking in public places over concerns it increases the risk of Covid-19 transmission.
It has issued a blanket ban on smoking in the street and in public places, such as restaurants and bars, if social distancing is not possible.
The north-western region is the first to introduce such a measure, although others are considering following suit.
It comes as Spain faces the worst infection rate in western Europe.
Daily cases have risen from fewer than 150 in June to more than 1,500 throughout August. It recorded 1,690 new cases in the latest daily count on Wednesday, bringing the country’s total to almost 330,000.
Galicia’s smoking ban was announced in a press conference on Wednesday after experts recommended the measure to the regional government.
The move is supported by health ministry research, published last month, that outlined the link between smoking and the increased spread of coronavirus.
It said the risk was heightened due to smokers not wearing masks. It also said people project droplets when they exhale smoke, and risk infection by touching the cigarette before bringing it to their mouth.
“Smoking with no limits… with people close by and without any social distancing [poses] a high risk of infection,” regional President Alberto Núñez Feijóo told the press conference.
“We know that this is an unpopular measure for smokers,” added Alberto Fernández Villar, a member of the clinical committee advising government, according to the El País newspaper. “But I believe we are in an exceptional situation.”
Similar measures have been imposed elsewhere, such as in South Africa where the sale of tobacco was banned at the end of March.
It justified the ban on health grounds based on advice from its own medical experts as well as from the World Health Organization (WHO).
And in the UK, a survey showed that more than one million people had given up smoking since the Covid-19 pandemic hit. UK government advice says smokers may be at risk of more severe Covid-19 symptoms.
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