A Happy Day for Den Den – The Zurich Smoking Ban

Posted on May 5, 2010


Moving to the canton of Zurich, Switzerland and learning that smoking was permitted in clubs and bars, but even more surprisingly in restaurants and cafes, was a complete shock for me. I mean, how could a country which prides itself in the quality of the local produce, in the purity of its air and the healthy habits of its citizens, force smokers and non-smokers to mingle in the same indoor spaces, often even in the presence of young children?

So when by chance, I learnt that smoking had finally been banned and the law would be implemented as of the 1st of May 2010, I was ecstatic, to say the least. I had sudden visions of walking into a cafe without risking an asthma attack, of sitting in a restaurant in the non-smoking zone without still exiting stinking of the smoke which had drifted all through the evening from the nearby smoking one. I dreamt of finally being able to buy my own kebab at the local mall instead of waiting for my partner to do so, while I stood next to the revolving doors leading outside and only breathed when a whiff of fresh air blew in. But wait a minute? I knew for a fact that when the midnight of the 1st of May struck, the police in Zurich would be out in full force not only to hold back the ridiculous and aimless violent protesters typical of the day, stopping them from vandalising and burning down buildings and public property, but they would also be ready to remind them not to light up while enjoying their morning croissant at their favourite cafe. But this kebab restaurant in Regensdorf is something else. Very few Swiss actually sit down in it and its customers are mostly Italians, Turkish and Balkan people, who in the space of a typical Friday evening, are able to smoke so much as to fill not only the restaurant area, but also that entire mall floor, so that the accumulation of smoke hits you like a brick wall as soon as you take the escalator down from street level.

So I started wondering if these heavy weights, who day in and day out sat there with ashtrays overflowing with cigarette butts, would seriously and peacefully give up the pleasure of an indoor smoke plus kebab. I thought for a moment about my home country, and how when the same law was passed for bars and clubs, no one really cared, and establishment owners always inevitably had contacts in the police, guaranteeing that no one would ever check or fine them. After developing an allergy to cigarette smoke, I’d had to stop going to clubs. But when I came here, I had thought, Restaurants and Cafes too???? Is there nowhere I can hide from other people’s masochistic desire to poison themselves on a regular basis? Most importantly, will I ever be able to breathe while waiting for a kebab?


The day finally came. The supermarket was out of our quick dinner option. Too lazy to cook anything complicated, we opted for a kebab. We walked silently towards the escalator, looking at each other, hopeful. We got to the bottom.

‘Can you smell it?’ I exclaimed.

‘No.’ My partner answered. ‘I can’t smell anything!’

And so it was that for the first time the air on the -1 level of the Regensdorf shopping mall was actually air. The scene at the kebab shop was a surprisingly peaceful one; a group of Italian speakers conversed placidly over a glass of beer, a man in the corner tapped away at an electronic slot machine, and the waitress served the customers with me finally being able to see her because she was not hidden behind a thick cloud of smoke. There was no trace of a cigarette, not a single one. And for the first time, I was smiling, rather than suffocating. In this case, I love Switzerland. A law is passed and people actually listen.


– Text and Photography by Denise Pulis @ www.travelwithdenden.wordpress.com

Posted in: Zurich