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Restaurant shut down over smoking ban to reopen -- smoke-free

By Al Goodman, CNN
Spain banned smoking in all bars, restaurants and public places on January 2, 2011.
Spain banned smoking in all bars, restaurants and public places on January 2, 2011.
  • El Asador Guadalmina will reopen in March and comply with the smoking ban, owner says
  • Arias defiantly vowed last week no one would close his business
  • He still faces a hefty fine for breaking the law, authorities said
  • Spain

Madrid, Spain (CNN) -- A restaurant shut down by police last week for repeatedly violating Spain's tough new anti-smoking law will reopen next month smoke-free, the owner of the establishment said Thursday.

Jose Antonio Arias, the owner of El Asador Guadalmina, defiantly vowed a week ago that no one would close his business. But Thursday he said he had decided to obey the law out of concern for his 16 employees and their families.

"I have decided to accept the law," Arias told reporters at a news conference at his restaurant, hours after regional health authorities said he had written to them, agreeing to adhere to the law that prohibits smoking in all indoor bars and restaurants.

Authorities said he still faces a nearly $200,000 fine for allowing smokers in his locale for nearly six weeks after the new law took effect January 2.

Arias last week told Spanish media he would never pay the fine, and health officials sent police on February 10 to close his restaurant, located near the popular southern Mediterranean resort of Marbella.

The closure of the restaurant was believed to be the first nationwide since the law went into effect, a Spanish health ministry spokesman said last week.

Before the shutdown, Arias said, "I am using my constitutional rights as a citizen and I'm not going to be run over by this dictatorial, Marxist, terrorist government."

The twice-elected Socialist government won backing for a law in 2006 that essentially allowed many bars and restaurants to choose if they would prohibit smoking. But as smoking continued across Spain, parliament followed up with the tougher one that banned such indoor smoking.

The law puts Spain in line with the strictest European countries -- Britain, France and Italy -- which prohibit smoking in all enclosed public spaces.

The Spanish government says most of the nation's 300,000 bars and restaurants are complying with the new law. Many have added to their outdoor terrace space, or put in outdoor heating, so that clients can step outside for a smoke, where it is allowed.

Regional health inspectors visited Arias' restaurant Wednesday to confirm that large signs which previously stated "this law will not be applied in our establishment" had been replaced with others that say smoking is prohibited, a regional health service spokeswoman told CNN.

Arias, at his news conference on Thursday, claimed he faced the potential fine because of the signs stating his disobedience to the law, and not for letting people smoke in his restaurant.

He vowed to continue a signature-gathering campaign across Spain to rally support to overturn the law, which Spain's hotel and restaurant federation says has caused a loss of business for many establishments.

Arias said his restaurant will reopen March 10. Until then, he added, the staff will have a vacation.