Smoke-free beaches

Smoke-free beaches in Barcelona

Barcelona is promoting the availability of smoke-free leisure spaces to protect the environment, preserve positive community life and protect people's health by banning smoking on all Barcelona beaches, except in beach bars and promenades.

Remember: cigarette butts, once properly extinguished, are for grey containers.

A smoke-free beach is one where smoking is banned everywhere, from sand to sea.

Following the positive results of the pilot test carried out last summer on four of the city's beaches, Barcelona City Council is now working to extend the smoking ban to all its beaches and the Fòrum’s bathing area.

This ban is based on environmental protection and the right of citizens to enjoy a clean public space, free of smoke and cigarette butts, as well as on maintaining positive community life and protecting the health of individuals, especially the most vulnerable.

Smoke-free beaches in Barcelona (2021 pilot test)

The Barcelona Public Health Agency (ASPB) and Barcelona Cicle de l’Aigua, SA (BCASA) ran the pilot test for smoke-free beaches on four of Barcelona’s beaches from 29 May to 12 September 2021. The City Council issued a mayoral decree [Ca] to carry out the pilot test on the Sant Miquel, Somorrostro, Nova Icària and Nova Mar Bella beaches, where smoking was banned everywhere, from sand to sea during the high bathing season.

The initiative was publicised in the mass media and on social networks. The smoke-free beaches were signposted, the initiative was communicated over the loudspeaker system and the environmental-information team informed and explained the initiative’s goals to the beaches’ users.

Assessments were made through standardised observations and surveys conducted by a technical team, and with cigarette butt collection days involving cooperation from associations and volunteers.

The pilot test’s results showed a significant reduction in the percentage of people smoking on the beaches and number of cigarette butts left on the sand. The initiative received a satisfactory score, more than 8 points out of 10, from the beaches’ users.

Further information: 2021 Pilot Test Results [PDF] [Ca]

Why smoke-free beaches?

To protect the environment

Tobacco consumption is an environmental problem, given that some five billion cigarette butts end up in the sea every year, where they release metal pollutants that cause changes to the biological systems of various marine organisms and, ultimately, human beings, who are at the top of the food chain. Moreover, cigarette butts take a decade to decompose.

Here, Directive (EU) 2019/904 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 5 June 2019 sets out the problem that tobacco product filters cause to beaches, as they contain plastic and are the “second most found single-use plastic items on beaches” in the European Union. The Directive therefore highlights the need for reducing the environmental impact caused by this waste and promotes different measures to that effect.

This Directive was transposed into Spanish law through the final approval on 31 March 2022 of the new state law on waste and contaminated land for a circular economy.  This new law includes, among the other preventive measures established under Article 18, the empowerment of local authorities to regulate bans on smoking in beaches, through municipal bye-laws, and to establish penalties to that end. The law provides legal coverage for bans on smoking in beaches.

In this framework, smoke-free beaches are a preventive measure for helping to reduce this type of waste on beaches and marine pollution.

For preserving positive community life

Barcelona's beaches are public spaces used intensely by a considerable part of the population, something that has posed serious challenges to positive community life.

Beaches make up one of the city’s largest leisure spaces, some 5 kilometres long and with an area of 240,000 square metres, receiving close to four million people of all ages every bathing season. Families with children account for 9% of users, according to 2018 survey data, which means that around 350,000 children use Barcelona’s beaches.

In addition, the last few years have seen a trend change in beach use, with more users counted throughout the year. This has turned the beaches into large outdoor spaces where the city’s residents can enjoy the sea and sand, engage in numerous uses, including sport, rest and play, and benefit from a wide range of services and activities.

This increased use of beaches contrasts with the annually decreasing area of available beach. Barcelona’s beaches are effectively a highly dynamic artificial system, which undergoes changes caused by the natural response of the beaches to wave action. The entire area of sand in Barcelona’s beaches has been decreasing at a rate 50,000 m3 a year since 2010. 

Barcelona City Council needs to ensure compatibility among all uses, services and activities so that beaches are a friendly and respectful space for the community.

For protecting people's health

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the world according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Smoking is also the leading cause of preventable death in Spain and a risk factor in six of the world’s eight main causes of mortality (WHO, 2008). Tobacco smoke is a carcinogen (IARC, 2021) and puts non-smokers at risk of illness, through passive inhalation, whether they are adults (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2006; Öberg, 2010) or children (Continente, 2019). There is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke and nicotine concentrates, even outdoors, in spaces where people are smoking (WHO, 2007). The scientific evidence on the health risks caused both by active tobacco consumption and by passive smoking is conclusive: it is a cause of death, illness and disability and one of Spain’s biggest public health problems.

Ensuring smoke-free spaces is most important for particularly vulnerable groups, including children, given their developing respiratory system and faster breathing rate. It should also be noted that smoke-free spaces have an educational effect, in addition to direct effects on health, in view of the evidence that there are fewer smokers among those not regularly exposed to tobacco smoke. This is especially important when it comes to raising awareness among the younger population and persuading them not to take up smoking.

Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to the effects of smoking, as it causes adverse effects during pregnancy and increases the chances of health problems developing among newborns.

Provisional data from the 2021 Barcelona Health Survey suggest that 15.2% of women and 22.5% of men smoke on a daily basis. Smoking is higher among the least privileged social classes. As for the city’s teenage school students, the Survey on Risk Factors in Secondary Education Schools (FRESC) shows a downward trend in smoking, especially among students in their fourth year of compulsory secondary education and in upper secondary education, up to 2016, and an upturn in 2021 in daily and regular smoking among girls in upper secondary education.

As for environmental tobacco smoke, a recent European study in which Barcelona participated showed a high presence in most of the outdoor areas measured, especially on beaches.

In terms of gender, smoking causes cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and cancer among both sexes, although there are differences in the effects by sex. Smoking has a negative effect on women’s reproductive health, causing diminishing fertility and bringing forward the onset of menopause. Finally, the rate of premature deaths among women from tobacco-related illnesses appears to be growing.

The ban on smoking in beaches provides a further front in the fight against tobacco use and ensures non-smokers the right not to be exposed to tobacco smoke caused by smokers. In addition, beaches are becoming areas for raising awareness among the population and persuading people not to smoke, especially the young.

Smoke-free beaches in Barcelona

Barcelona is promoting the availability of smoke-free leisure spaces to protect the environment, preserve positive community life and protect people's health by banning smoking on all Barcelona beaches, except in beach bars and promenades.

Remember: cigarette butts, once properly extinguished, are for grey containers.

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