27th Sep 2023

Austria and Romania among those with laxest smoking rules

  • Greece has a total ban on smoking in restaurants (Photo: Nikolaj Nielsen)

Smokers craving for an after meal cigarette at a restaurant may want to head to Austria, Czech Republic, Greece, Romania or Slovakia where bans either do not exist or are not enforced.

The findings, published on Tuesday (14 April) by the Brussels-based Smoke Free partnership (SFP) say all five have the laxest rules on smoking in the EU.

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The issue is raising concern because passive smoke is considered a risk to health, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). The UN organisation has classified second hand smoke as a carcinogen.

The habit itself is said to kill some 700,000 smokers every year in the EU alone.

SFP director Florence Berteletti blames governments that don’t train police to “punish those who do not respect the law”.

She notes investment in police training like in the UK and Ireland has resulted in laws being applied. Other top enforcement countries include Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, and Spain.

Cyprus, Ireland, and UK, unlike other member states, also ban people from smoking in private places - such as cars - if children are present.

Ireland took it a step further by turning people into informants after it set up a government hotline. People can call it whenever they witness someone lighting up in a public space.

"In Ireland, even today, there is a phone line where if it is not enforced, you can ring," said Berteletti.

Another Irish distinction occurred in 2004 when it became the first country in the world to introduce a smoking ban at the workplace.

By then, the world’s first public international health treaty had been passed when the WHO adopted a framework convention on tobacco control (FCTC). This then entered into force in 2005 and created a legal obligation to adopt and implement rules to protect people from exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke in public spaces.

A few years later in 2009, the Council, representing member states, officially recognised the harm caused by second hand smoke.

At the time, it recommended a 100 percent smoking ban in all public spaces, including hospitality venues.

But six years later the WHO rules and EU recommendations are either being flouted or applied haphazardly in many member states.

Martin Seychell, deputy director general of health and food safety at the European commission, said second hand smoke remains a major source of mortality and morbidity. Estimates from 2006 suggest it kills some 79,000 on an annual basis in the EU.

“It has immediate adverse effects on the cardiovascular system, causes heart disease, lung cancer, and many other diseases,” he said.

The commission wants legislation to encourage people to stop smoking and to “denormalise” it.

Around half the member states have either adopted or strengthened their legislation in this area since 2009.

But Seychell says smoking exceptions for places like small bars are complicating enforcement and applications of the laws.

“It is clear that national legislation that contains many exemptions is much more difficult to enforce and therefore tends to be much less effective,” he said.

He also critised tobacco industry for creating electronic cigarettes, and praised Belgium, Malta, and Slovakia for having adopted additional rules that ban the mechanical devices in public spaces.

The commission says investment in prevention has immediate returns, especially for people suffering from asthma or cardiovascular disease.

Member states, for their part, have until May next year to fully transpose into national laws the revised EU tobacco products directive, which toughens up rules on how tobacco products are manufactured, produced and presented in the EU.


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