This is a post about freedom, not an encouragement to smoke tobacco. Myself, I am a committed tobaccophile - I'm just taking a very long break from smoking. If I make it to 70, I intend to start smoking again. I like the smell of smoke and am lucky having local friends who smoke - so my house is still furnished with ashtrays. I've also got some cigars which they will have to smoke for me over Christmas, whilst I bliss out on Colheita Port, Samuel Gawith snuff and the heady scent of best Havana leaf smoke. But because of the health disbenefits, I wouldn't encourage anyone to start.
Austrians however are firm believers in the rights of citizens to injure themselves in any way they wish. There isn't a week goes by without the local paper reporting in a matter-of-fact way another farmer crushed under his tractor, lady kicked to death by a horse, driver heading off a steep ravine or carpenter sawing his arm off. In fact, carpenters here wear their lack of fingers as a badge of honour - good carpenters, they reckon, must have lost at least two fingers. And there is no, I repeat no, whiny wailing in the media that 'Something must be done!' or that 'They must stop this happening!' after each death. Very philosophical they are about such things, here.
It reminds me of a train crash in Ghana in which several passengers had been killed. Our local Accra paper reported that the Transport Minister had visited the scene - not to call for an inquiry, or make vacuous promises, but simply to pour a libation of palm wine to appease the spirits of those killed. A policy at least as sound as, and possibly more so than, UK practice.
One of the things here I particularly enjoy is my clothes reeking of smoke after a session down at the gasthaus. Sometimes, if I sniff deeply enough, I can still get a hit three days later. The current law does require bars over a certain size to offer a non-smoking room, usually a cold, empty room at the back somewhere, for anti-smokers. From next year all bars and restaurants where food is consumed would have been obliged to ban smoking - but Austria's new political coalition is putting an end to that. The FPOe - the Freedom Party - is insisting the ban is scrapped. So those of us who really don't mind eating and smoking in the same room can carry on being as sociable as before.
It's a small win, but proof that there's still a libertarian tolerance in places.