To say the Bosnians are a nation of smokers is probably an understatement. The Bosnians are a nation of enthusiastic smokers. Everyone smokes. Everyone. I can count on one hand the number of Bosnians I know who don't smoke.
It isn't so bad in the summer, everyone spends all the time outdoors so, fag ends and cigarette packets detritus apart, you don't notice it so much. But in winter, when everyone is inside with the windows tightly closed, oh lordy me, it is awful. The Bosnians smoke everywhere, restaurants, offices, buses, bars, cafes, you name it. People look in amazement when I ask them to not smoke inside our house but to go outside for their cigarette. The Americans and Europeans amongst you have probably forgotten what it is like to walk into a restaurant and be hit by a wall of cheap cigarette smoke and how horrible it is to eat your meal whilst also breathing in the fumes of the smokers next door to you. It is so ingrained, so presumed that you will be a smoker, that one friend of mine was given this piece of post-natal advice by her doctor 'Try not to smoke for 10 minutes before and after feeding your baby'.
Now the Bosnians know that smoking is not good for you and that it is an unpleasant habit for those of us who aren't smokers. But much like 1970s Britain, that is just seen as tough luck on the non-smokers. There are some no smoking areas. The boys' nursery is mainly non-smoking (but there is still quite a bit of puffing going on in the offices behind closed doors). The Mercator shopping centre (but you can smoke in the cafes there). Some offices, but not many. I can't think of any others.
I the 2 years we've been here, I've sort of got used to it. That isn't to say that I don't notice it anymore, because I do, especially in the winter, but that I expect it and am ready to deal with it. Which is why I was surprised to see this headline saying that the Croatians are bringing in a smoking ban in bars with effect from April 9th. The Croatians love their smoking as much as the Bosnians do (actually the whole of the Balkans love a good cigarette moment). The timing of this ban is clever. The weather is improving and most people will be able to sit outside and smoke so it won't really bite until the winter hits. But it does show that the Balkans are changing. Croatia, being the most European looking, is the first to move. The others will follow. They will have to.
And whilst most Bosnians roar with laughter at the thought of a smoking ban, there are signs of change. The other day I went for a meeting, myself and 3 other Bosnians. Not one person in the group had a cigarette. I had to check I was still in the right country. I was. It was the first time I had ever had a meeting with more than one Bosnian that hadn't involved a cigarette. I know more non-smokers (and ex-smokers) here than I ever did before. As I say to the Bosnians who say 'we'll never have a ban here', we never thought we would in the UK either. But we do, and it will happen in the Balkans too. Maybe not tomorrow, but it will.