updated 1/1/2006 5:09:27 PM ET 2006-01-01T22:09:27

Spanish smokers faced a wrenching change New Year’s Day as a nationwide ban on tobacco in the workplace came into force in a country known for its smoky bars.

It became illegal to smoke in office buildings, shopping malls, cultural centers and public transportation, among other indoor spaces. Bars and restaurants with more than 1,100 square feet of floor space now must have nonsmoking areas, the first step in a process that will eventually require the areas to be physically sealed off from the rest of the establishment.

Some Spanish smokers said the law threatens to disrupt their daily routines of smoking and socializing at the local bar at any hour of the day.

The government says smoking is the biggest cause of death in Spain. Around 30 percent of Spaniards smoke; 50,000 die of tobacco-related illnesses each year, and 700 die from secondhand smoke.

“Smoking is part of the Spanish culture. To go to a bar where there is no smoke, it’s like you’re not in Spain,” said Javier Gonzalez, an avid smoker and a bartender in Madrid.

The new law extends a ban on cigarette advertising to include the media and billboards and excludes cigarette manufacturers from sponsorship deals, although this will not apply until 2009 for Formula One car racing.

Airports and theaters would also have to designate and separate smoking areas.

A government-financed poll released the day after the bill passed said more than 70 percent of respondents supported it.

Compared with some other European countries’ laws, the legislation is relatively liberal.

Countries such as Ireland, Sweden and Norway ban smoking in the workplace altogether. Owners of smaller Spanish restaurants and bars can decide whether to allow smoking, but have to display a sign stating clearly whether their establishment is smoke-free.

Bigger bars and restaurants have eight months to set up smoking areas that are sealed and have their own ventilation systems. Minors will not be allowed to enter these areas, which cannot take up more than 30 percent of the total floor space.

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