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Green Paper on promoting smoke-free areas in the European Union

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With this Green Paper, the Commission aims to launch a broad consultation process and an open public debate on the best means of promoting smoke-free areas in the EU. The Commission considers that the policy of the widest scope would bring the biggest benefit to public health. The key objective is to find the most appropriate strategy option to promote the development of smoke-free areas. Passive smoking remains a major source of excess morbidity and mortality in Europe, and imposes significant costs on society as a whole.

ACT

Green Paper of 30 January 2007 - Towards a Europe free from tobacco smoke: policy options at EU level [COM(2007) 27 final - Not published in the Official Journal].

SUMMARY

The EU has already looked at the issue of tobacco smoke-free areas. In its 1989 Resolution, the Council called on the Member States to take measures to ban smoking in public places in certain establishments and in forms of transport. In its 2002 recommendation, it also urged the Member States to implement legislation providing protection from the effects of passive smoking at workplaces, in enclosed public places, and on public transport.

This Green Paper seeks the views of the interested parties on the approaches and strategy options identified by the Commission to promote smoke-free areas in the EU. The aim is to analyse the results of the consultation in order to lend a Community dimension to tackling environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), not just to supplement and support existing national measures but also to help disseminate good practice. The Commission will analyse the replies received with a view to taking a decision on what future measures could be introduced. A report summarising the results of the consultation should be published in the course of 2007.

SMOKE-FREE AREAS

Nearly 70 % of EU citizens do not smoke, and studies show that the majority of smokers want to stop smoking. The initiative on developing smoke-free areas would entail protecting people from the harm of ETS exposure and would also contribute to the reduction of tobacco consumption in the whole population. This would have two enormous consequences in the field of health: reduced illness and increased life expectancy.

From an economic point of view, given that passive smoking also leads to significant costs in terms of healthcare spending and sick leave due to tobacco-related diseases, an action of this type could produce net benefits in each Member State. However, a reduction in tobacco consumption would cause job losses in the tobacco industry, and a drop in Member States revenue from taxes on cigarettes. On the other hand, smoking bans could increase the disposable income of smoking households, and the new expenditure by such households would lead to additional revenue in the form of VAT.

CURRENT REGULATIONS

There are at present a number of national, Community and international provisions to encourage countries to develop smoke-free areas.

International provisions

The World Health Organisation (WHO) Framework Convention of Tobacco Control, signed in June 2003 and ratified by the Community, states that ETS causes death, disease and disability. The Convention obliges the Community and its Member States to take measures to tackle ETS exposure in indoor workplaces, public transport and indoor public places.

Community provisions

At European level, there are non-binding provisions such as the Resolution on smoking in public places and the recommendation on the prevention of smoking and on initiatives to improve tobacco control. There are also directives to be transposed into national law by the Member States. The following measures aim to protect workers from ETS:

  • the Framework Directive on health and safety at work by which employers are obliged to evaluate all risks to the safety and health of workers at work and to take appropriate risk prevention and protection measures;
  • the Directive concerning the minimum safety and health requirements for the workplace which obliges employers to protect non-smokers from tobacco smoke in rest rooms and to ensure sufficient fresh air in enclosed workplaces;
  • the Directive on carcinogens and mutagens and the Directive on asbestos which ban smoking in places where carcinogens and mutagens and asbestos are handled;
  • the Directive on pregnant workers which states that employers must take measures to protect pregnant and breastfeeding women from exposure to carbon monoxide;

In addition, certain components of ETS are classified as carcinogenic by the Dangerous Substances Directive.

National provisions

All the Member States have developed regulations to reduce ETS exposure. Some of them (Ireland and Scotland) impose comprehensive bans on smoking in all enclosed public places and all workplaces, including bars and restaurants. Others (Italy, Malta and Sweden) have general bans with exemptions which allow employers to create special sealed-off smoking rooms with separate ventilation systems. There are, finally, some countries (Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, the Netherlands, Slovenia and Spain) which have opted for a ban on smoking in all enclosed public places and all workplaces, with the exception of the hospitality sector (hotels, restaurants and cafés) where partial restrictions apply.

These measures can be in the form of resolutions, voluntary agreements or strict laws with penalties for failure to comply.

POSSIBLE APPROACHES

The Green Paper proposes two different approaches: a broad approach and a less strict approach.

Broad approach

The most comprehensive approach would be based on a total ban on smoking in all enclosed or substantially enclosed workplaces and public places, including means of public transport. The Commission also considers that this would be the most effective approach, given the large range of places in which people are exposed to ETS.

This policy would offer the following advantages:

  • a very significant reduction in ETS exposure;
  • an incentive for smokers to cut back or give up smoking, which would lead to a reduction in active smoking and the de-normalisation of smoking in society;
  • a reduction in socio-economic inequalities in the field of health, given that it is members of the more disadvantaged groups who are more inclined to smoke or to be exposed to ETS;
  • ease of application as it would create a level playing field for all operators.

However, some Member States might well oppose a comprehensive ban. The tobacco industry and the Horeca sector have also come out against this measure.

Less restrictive approach

This policy would consist of a total ban on smoking in all enclosed or substantially enclosed workplaces and public places, whilst granting exemptions to selected categories of venues, such as licensed bars, restaurants and cafés and bars and cafés which do not serve food. Exempted venues could be obliged to create enclosed smoking rooms and to comply with ventilation standards.

A ban with exemptions would be more easily accepted by certain Member States, and would not prevent others from introducing more stringent legislation.

There would, however, be more disadvantages with this approach:

  • the health and social benefits would be less obvious;
  • the reduction and de-normalisation of smoking would be less than in the case of a comprehensive ban;
  • the approach would be more complicated and expensive to enforce because it would involve the application of different measures in different places;
  • the groups most vulnerable to passive smoking, such as staff in the Horeca sector, would continue to be exposed to other people's smoke;
  • the creation of enclosed smoking rooms would be expensive and, amongst other drawbacks, would not protect staff entering them, and the ventilation systems would not be able to completely eliminate tobacco smoke.

Regardless of the approach chosen, it would need to be accompanied by supporting measures at European and/or national level in order to maximise its effectiveness. For example, the EU or the Member States could conduct awareness-raising campaigns highlighting the dangers of smoking.

STRATEGY OPTIONS

The Green Paper identifies five strategy options to achieve the smoke-free objectives. These options may complement each other, but should also be accompanied by viable means of enforcement in order to make them fully effective.

Keeping things the way they are

The EU would continue its current work on passive smoking, such as the anti-tobacco HELP campaign, without undertaking any new initiatives.

Regulatory developments would be left to the Member States and they would decide on whether or not to introduce smoking bans.

The development of smoke-free areas would continue, but this option would be the least effective in reducing ETS exposure.

Voluntary measures

The stakeholders could adopt common voluntary guidelines at European level to make more places smoke-free. A platform bringing together all those concerned could be set up in order to facilitate discussions. A Treaty-based agreement could also be negotiated by the European social partners.

Nonetheless, the effectiveness of agreements and voluntary measures would largely depend on the stakeholders' willingness to comply with their commitments. Evidence from the Member States indicates that voluntary agreements are not effective in the area of tobacco control.

Open method of coordination

The Member States would be encouraged to make their laws on developing smoke-free areas more convergent. This option would allow the EU Member States to share experiences and best practices in introducing effective smoke-free measures.

Successful experience could also serve as the basis for drawing up common EU guidelines. These guidelines would then be translated into national action plans to reduce ETS exposure.

This method would not be binding. Multilateral surveillance would therefore need to be set up to check compliance with the objectives set. The Member States could draw up annual reports containing the results of their assessment.

Commission or Council Recommendation

The Commission or the Council would state that national legislation needed to be introduced in order to eliminate ETS exposure in the EU.

This sort of recommendation would help make tackling passive smoking a high priority in all EU Member States.

Given that the recommendation would not be binding, a monitoring regime would need to be set up to create public pressure for the development of a more stringent policy. The effectiveness of this option would largely depend on the willingness of the Member States to take action.

Binding legislation

The EU could adopt binding legislative measures, which would oblige each Member State to introduce identical regulations to protect citizens from ETS exposure. The following solutions could be envisaged:

The drawback of this option is that the process of compiling binding legislation could well be lengthy, and it would not be easy to predict the final outcome.

Background

In 2002, the WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer classified ETS as a human carcinogen. Exposure to ETS, which contains over 50 carcinogens, is the cause of many diseases such as lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, and respiratory diseases.

According to some estimates, passive smoking kills over 79 000 adults each year in the EU countries. The home and the workplace are the main places for chronic ETS exposure. Passive smoking is especially dangerous for young children and infants, and in pregnant women.

Last updated: 16.04.2007
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