Thursday, November 29, 2007

Ushuaia Ain't Smokin'

Years ago, I would have considered Argentines among the world's most unrepentant tobacco junkies, but things are changing fast. Overrun with tourists, the city of Ushuaia has responded to the influx of overseas visitors by banning smoking in all restaurants, a measure that is due to be extended to bars and clubs before too long. It's also part of a movement that began with the actions of Argentina's then health minister Ginés González García, and was quickly implemented in Buenos Aires. Argentina, though, has a federal system and thus each province and even locality has a great deal of autonomy in the matter.

Río Grande, the only other substantial city on the Argentine side of Tierra del Fuego, is still a free-fire zone for smokers, in part at least because it doesn't get the tourist trade. Ironically enough, though, the island that tooks its name from fires tended by so-called "Canoe Indians" in colonial times--one souvenir store here is called "Tierra de Humos" (Land of Smoke)--is increasingly free of airborne carcinogens.

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