EU reports progress against second-hand smoke, says more to be done

Written by on February 22, 2013 in Bulgaria, Europe, News - No comments

Protection from second hand smoke has improved considerably in the European Union, according to a European Commission (EC) report on February 22 2013.

According to the EC report, 28 per cent of Europeans were exposed to second hand smoke in bars in 2012, down from 46 per cent in 2009.

The report is based on self-reporting by the 27 member states of the EU, following the 2009 Council Recommendation on Smoke-free Environments, which called on governments to adopt and implement laws to fully protect their citizens from exposure to tobacco smoke in enclosed public places, workplaces and public transport.

“The report dispels concerns about smoking bans impacting negatively on the revenues of bars and restaurants, by showing that the economic impact has been limited, neutral and even positive over time,” the EC said.

However, the report says that some EU countries are lagging behind, in terms of comprehensive laws protecting public health, and enforcement.

Tonio Borg, European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, said: “The report published today shows that member states have made steady progress in protecting their citizens from second hand smoke. Citizen’s exposure to smoking, however, still varies widely across the EU and there is a long way to go to make ‘Smoke Free Europe’ a reality.

“I urge all member states to step up their efforts to enforce legislation, commend those who have adopted ambitious smoke free laws and urge the others to follow suit,” Borg said.

Exposure to second hand tobacco smoke is a wide-spread source of mortality, morbidity and disability in the EU, the EC said.

Quoting what it described as conservative estimates, the EC said that more than 70 000 adults in the EU died because of exposure to tobacco smoke in 2002, many of them non-smokers or employees exposed to second hand smoking at their workplaces.

The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control calls on all of its signatories (176 parties) to provide effective “protection from exposure to tobacco smoke in indoor workplaces, public transport, indoor public places, and, as appropriate, other public places”. Guidelines were adopted in 2007 to help parties meet their obligations.

“It was against this background that the Council adopted a Council Recommendation on Smoke-free Environments in 2009, calling on Member States to introduce measures to provide effective protection against exposure to second hand smoke no later than November 2012.”

Other key findings of the report:

• All EU member states report that they have adopted measures to protect citizens against exposure to tobacco smoke.

• National measures differ considerably in extent and scope. About half of the member states have adopted or strengthened their smoke-free legislation since 2009. Many also started earlier.

• Enforcement seems to be a problem in some member states. Complex legislation (meaning, legislation with exemptions) is found to be particularly difficult to enforce.

• The actual exposure rates for EU citizens dropped overall from 2009 to 2012 (e.g. for citizens visiting drinking places the exposure rate dropped from 46 per cent to 28 per cent). There are however very significant differences between member states.

• Belgium, Spain and Poland are examples of countries where the adoption of comprehensive legislation led to very significant drops in exposure rates within a short period of time.

• The positive health effects of smoke-free legislation are immediate and include a reduction in the incidence of heart attacks and improvements in respiratory health.

• Public support for smoke-free legislation is very high in Europe. A 2009 survey showed that most Europeans are supportive. This is also supported by national surveys which reveal that support increased after introduction of effective measures.

Bulgaria brought into effect legislation in June 2012 imposing a full ban on smoking in all enclosed public spaces. Campaigns to reverse this legislation, based largely on restaurants and bars saying that it harms their business, have been rejected by Parliament’s committees on health and on the economy.

The Czech Republic’s health minister, in January 2013, proposed legislation outlawing smoking in bars and restaurants. Current plans are for the law to come into effect in 2014.

In Hungary, a full ban on smoking in pubs, restaurants and cafes came into effect in April 2012.

Among other EU states in Central and Eastern Europe, a smoking ban came into effect in Poland in November 2010, while Slovakia – which already had such a ban – made headlines when in July 2012 a ban was imposed throughout the village of Vlkolínec because it is a Unesco world heritage site, with many wooden houses. Media reports quoted some residents as being “outraged” at being banned from smoking in their own homes.

In January 2013, the health ministry of Cyprus unveiled a tougher smoking ban, expanding the definition of “public open space” to include, among other things, temporary walls – and also including electronic cigarettes in the smoking ban.

Greece approved a smoking ban in September 2010, outlawing lighting up in restaurants, bars and clubs. The law, reported by local media to be widely flouted, survived a court challenge when in November 2012 it was found to be compatible with the constitution and laws of Greece.

In Romania, the senate approved in June 2011 a ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces, but this law has yet to be approved by the lower house, the chamber of deputies, leaving in place legislation that restricts smoking without fully banning it.

(Photo: Rodrio Matias/sxc.hu)

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