Smoke-Free Environments 

The European Commission has adopted a proposal aimed at protecting people from exposure to tobacco smoke in indoor workplaces, indoor public places and public transport. This proposal is for a Council Recommendation, which seeks to achieve a non-binding commitment from Member States to implement Article 8 of the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco. Article 8 of the WHO Framework Convention – ratified so far by 26 Member States and the EU – obliges all Parties to ensure effective protection from exposure to tobacco smoke in indoor workplaces, indoor public places and public transport.

Background

Tobacco is consistently cited by scientific studies as being the single largest cause of avoidable death, disease and disability in the European Union (EU). Numerous studies have also suggested that exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) – also referred to as second-hand tobacco smoke – is a significant additional source of mortality, morbidity and disability in the EU. It has been reported that ETS contains over 4,000 gaseous and particulate compounds, including 69 known carcinogens and many toxic agents.

In response to the perceived dangers of ETS, just over a third of EU Member States have adopted comprehensive smoke-free laws covering indoor workplaces and public places. Many countries have claimed success in reducing harm from tobacco smoke while at the same time not damaging their economies. Reported immediate health effects of smoke-free laws include improved respiratory health of hospitality workers and reduced incidence of heart attacks in the general population. It has been suggested that smoke-free policies have also helped reduce tobacco consumption, encouraged attempts to quit and reduced smoking uptake among young people.

While the issue of smoke-free environments has so far been addressed in non-binding resolutions and recommendations at an EU level, none of these have provided detailed guidance on how to achieve fully smoke-free environments. In accordance with the provisions laid down in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the EU has therefore decided to produce a set of non-binding guidelines on how to achieve smoke-free environments.

Aim of the Proposal

The proposed Recommendation calls for:

1. Measures to tackle ETS exposure among children and adolescents;
2. Complementary  measures such as effective policies for stopping tobacco use and pictorial warnings on tobacco packages;
3. Development of comprehensive multi-sectoral strategies and adequate instruments to implement them;
4. Regular exchange of information and best practice as well as policy coordination among Member States through a network of national focal points.

Scope of the Smoking Ban

The Recommendation asks Member States to ensure that public places, workplaces and public transport are smoke-free. It also requests a ban on smoking outdoors in all educational institutions for minors, in all places of healthcare delivery and at public events. This is in accordance with Article 8 of the WHO’s Framework Convention, which requires the adoption of effective measures to protect people from exposure to tobacco smoke in (1) indoor workplaces, (2) indoor public places, (3) public transport, and (4) “as appropriate” in “other public places”. Moreover, the Recommendation states that Member States should classify environmental tobacco smoke as a carcinogen.

Public Support for a Ban

Smoke-free environments enjoy wide public support. According to the European Commission, nine out of ten EU citizens support smoke-free workplaces and public places. Studies have also shown that support for smoke-free policies tends to increase after their introduction.

Exchange of Information

Member States will be expected to cooperate closely among themselves and with the Commission on the development of common definitions, benchmarks and indicators for their implementation. This is considered to be particularly important given the novelty of some of the provisions. Within 6 months of the adoption of this Recommendation, Member States are expected to set up national focal points for tobacco control with a view to exchanging information and best practices as well as policy coordination with other Member States. The EU will encourage cooperation between the Member States and lend support to their action as laid down in Article 152 of the EC Treaty to improve public health and prevent human illness and diseases.

Enforcement

The Recommendation states that effective legislation should impose legal responsibilities for compliance on both affected business establishments and individual smokers, and should provide penalties for violations, which should apply to businesses and, possibly, smokers. It mentions that the monitoring mechanism should not ordinarily require a new inspection system and that experience shows that smoke-free legislation quickly becomes self-enforcing – i.e predominantly enforced by the public.

Time Frame

The WHO’s Framework Convention was signed on 21 May 2003 and entered into force on 27 February 2005. It gives signatories 5 years to implement its measures and consequently, the measures outlined in this Recommendation are expected to be implemented by 2010. The Recommendation provides for an extra 3 years following its adoption in the event that Member States are not able to implement the WHO’s provisions by 2010.