Inside space; outside space.

When I was a civil servant sometime back in the 1990s (or as my kids like to claim, the Dark Ages) the UK, along with its EU counterparts, was preparing for changes to the laws on smoking in public places. Despite my advancing years, I remember those smoking bans coming into force and how revolutionary and, if I’m honest, a bit mean, it seemed to force smokers out of their comfy pub corners to shiver outside in the rain. Now, it just seems perfectly normal.

The UK took a stricter line on the smoking ban than some of its neighbours. The method of implementation of EU Directives varies between Member States. So, the objective — in this case to prevent smoking in indoor public places to protect public health - is the same in each country but there is some wiggle room as to how this is achieved. This meant that individual Member States had to make decisions about whether to allow smoking in private venues, such as private members clubs and how terms such as “indoor” would be defined. It is noticeable that if you chose to sit in a semi-enclosed terrace attached to a restaurant in Paris you will eat your lunch in a fug of second-hand smoke but that you can’t get within a stone’s throw of an English football ground with a lit cigarette in your hand.

And it was smokers at football matches that got me thinking again about how we define inside and outside space. As well as moving from England to Brussels, our family has recently moved its football-going activity from Brighton & Hove Albion to RSC Anderlecht in Belgium’s Jupiler Pro League. This Sunday, we were at the Stadium Constant Vanden Stock to watch the Mauves play league leaders Charleroi.

We have already experienced the stadium in both blazing sunshine and in torrential rain. When it is raining, the areas around the turnstiles and food stands most certainly feel like outdoors. But what about the stands? At Brighton, we regularly got soaked because although there is a roof it only extends far enough to protect the very back rows from the elements. At Anderlecht, we have been securely tucked under the roof (and out of the rain) once we actually take our seats. So, is this “indoors” or out and can there be a single definition for the whole stadium? The concourses with their food outlets, stairwells and toilet blocks are manifestly inside the stadium building itself. Surely those must be “indoors”? The seats are open to the outside air but protected by a roof. Is this then “outdoors”? Does having an assigned seat, with minimal leg room, and no ability to move away from your neighbours, make this somehow different from what we usually think of as being outdoors? And what about when your neighbour wants to smoke a cigarette (or six in rapid succession) as happened to us on Sunday?

Having asked around, it appears that there is no national rule. Some Belgian clubs tolerate smoking (generally in outdoor areas) while others take a stricter line. FC Bruges has a total ban on smoking in its stadium but to my surprise this is unusual in Belgium. Anderlecht’s rules are somewhat unclear: According to the official website it is “strictement interdit … de fumer dans les zones dans lesquelles il est interdit de fumer”! Further digging reveals that this includes all indoor areas and the tribunes (stands) but experience suggests that this is not advertised, let alone enforced. There were certainly plenty of fans smoking by the (indoor) toilets after Sunday’s game and I didn’t see any no smoking notices. Belgium was slower than the UK to implement a smoking ban in all food outlets (initially those serving only “light meals” were exempt) and there is currently a debate as to whether the national smoking ban should be extended to amusement parks, football stadiums, station platforms and other “open-air venues”.

I think we were a bit unlucky on this particular occasion to be sitting behind a chain smoker (and he did stop when we eventually asked him to) but it did get me thinking about my assumptions.

It’s good to be reminded once in a while that Europe-wide rules may not feel so Europe-wide in practice.

Brussels, September 2016

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