Smoking | Freedom Worth Dying For?

As the door to Café Einhorn opens, a draft of icy winter air surges into the room. For a fleeting moment, our lungs suck in the oxygen before it dissolves into the yellow haze of dozens of cigarettes, preserving the bar’s reputation as one of the smokiest in Vienna.

Tourists and expats are often amazed to find you can still smoke in bars and restaurants in Vienna – and report being bewildered by the blatant ignorance of the health benefits of a smoking ban.

For many, it’s their first run-in with an “Austrian solution” – one where a way is found to make space for both sides of an argument. For those concerned with health consequences, many places are smoke free. But if space allows, bars and restaurants can offer both, and small Lokale can choose. Plenty of options; everybody’s happy. Some restaurants had even returned to the courtesies of earlier times when smoking was only allowed once the kitchen was closed. Good manners can make laws unnecessary.

But there was still that EU directive hanging over Austria’s collective head, and in August 2015, a complete smoking ban was passed to take effect in May 2018, under vehement protest from the restaurant industry. To some, it seemed we had finally come to our senses.

And then, the new government reversed the decision once again, calling off the smoking ban. Vice chancellor H.C. Strache, a onepack-a-day man himself, voiced publicly what many Austrians only dare say from the safety of their Stammtisch: We will not let those “Großkopferte” (bigwigs) take away our freedom. We will keep smoking – even if it kills us.

Back at the Einhorn, the bartender lights up another cigarette. The Sex Pistols are playing from the dusty speakers, supporting his cry for revolution – or in this case, the lack of one. Austrian smokers have won the battle. And even if the war isn’t over yet, at least for tonight, all’s well in their nicotine-filled world.

Andreas Rainer
Andreas Rainer is a journalist and writer based in Vienna. He lived across the pond in the U.S. and Canada for three years which gave him a new love for Vienna from an outsider's perspective. He headed the Vienna branch of the San Francisco based food app Yelp for the past six years, making him a prime source of insider knowledge on new restaurants hidden bars. He authored the Guide Book Vienna for Germans (2017) and made the short list (2015) and long list (2016) for the "Wortlaut" short fiction contest, tweets at @an_rainer

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