If you are thinking of moving to Vienna (or possibly even traveling here, depending on how sensitive you are to these things) there is something you should know.
The Viennese smoke like it’s 1955. Seriously, think “Mad Men.” I thought I might be imagining how bad it was compared to other countries, until I saw this:
See that red spot in Central Europe? That is the ashtray of the Western world. Austria falls just behind Greece, Macedonia, and Bulgaria in smoking rates, according to this NPR story on the subject.
I am not the kind of person who cannot deal with the merest whiff of cigarette smoke. I grew up in the South, and am old enough to remember when smoking was common, even in restaurants. I even smoked occasionally myself as a teenager. While I’d rather not sit right next to a smoker, I do not run screaming when someone lights up.
But here in Vienna, it can get pretty nasty even for the relatively smoke-tolerant.
Smoking is still allowed in restaurants and bars. Quite often, the separator between the smoking section and “non-smoking section” (HUGE air quotes here) is an open door, or even just a screen with plenty of air circulating around it. This section is also quite often located at the front of the establishment, meaning you have to walk through a cloud of smoke to get to your table. Seriously, people. Yuck.
If people aren’t smoking inside, you can bet they are smoking right outside the door. Little smoking tables, like this one outside a beauty salon, are common.
I walk around downtown all the time, and frequently dodge smoke trails from people walking along with a cigarette. Which will soon be tossed onto the ground. Though the city of Vienna provides suggestively designed trash cans on every street corner, and sweeps the streets quite regularly, little drifts of cigarette butts pile up along every sidewalk.
It’s an interesting contrast to the glamour in many shop windows.
There doesn’t appear to be any age restriction on smoking. If there is, the omnipresence of these tobacco stores and vending machines negates it.
In fact, though I don’t understand how such a wealthy, well-educated, tidy, and “wellness”-obsessed people can smoke and drop their butts everywhere, I don’t honestly care if they want to kill themselves. It’s not my country and I won’t be paying for their ventilators, so whatever.
My real problem with this nicotine-addicted country is that my teenage son took up smoking almost as soon as he got here. Well, why not? All his friends smoke, and there’s no problem buying cigarettes. The drinking age is 16, so hanging out in smoky bars is normal for kids here, too. Even if my son never lit one cigarette, he’d still breathe a lot of smoke, and his clothes would still stink on Sunday morning.
I’ll tell you why not. My grandfather died at age 62 from lung cancer. He was not a perfect person, but he was a really good grandfather and he should have been around a while longer.
Would he still be living if he hadn’t smoked? Probably not. He was a man who liked his bacon, too. But, he would have almost certainly been around to enjoy his great-grandchildren for a while. I think he would especially have thought my son (who is named after him) was a hoot.
I don’t remember my grandfather being an especially heavy smoker, but he did start as a young teenager, just like my son. All the boys smoked back then, or so I’m told. So that means he smoked for almost 50 years until it killed him.
Long after he died, my grandmother said, “well, we told him not to smoke, didn’t we?” Pretty much sums it up.
People are irrational. Teenagers, especially are irrational. And kinda stupid, honestly.
My son has allergies and asthma. Since he took up smoking, he coughs constantly, and seems have a new cold every two or three weeks. Yes, I tell him, over and over again that he will be much healthier if he stops smoking. Yes, I ban smoking in the house, and throw away cigarettes and lighters whenever I find them. But, it’s legal and easy to smoke here, and ultimately beyond my control.
I don’t know if my son would have taken up smoking regularly if we had stayed in the States, or even if we had been posted to some other, less nicotine-crazed, country. But I think it would be much less likely.
So yes, I have a problem with the Viennese and their filthy habit. I just hope and pray that my son will get a clue before it’s too late. I do not ever want to have to tell him, “well, we told you not to smoke, didn’t we?”