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EU calls for uniform action against smoking in public places across all states

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.b5431 (Published 11 December 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b5431
  1. Ned Stafford
  1. 1Hamburg

    European Union member nations have approved a recommendation calling on all EU states to take legal action by 2012 to protect their citizens from exposure to tobacco smoke in enclosed workplaces, indoor public places, public transport, and other public areas.

    The recommendation, designed to bring the EU in line with international commitments under the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, also advises member nations to do more to protect children from second hand smoke and to adopt measures to deter tobacco consumption, such as putting graphic colour photographs of cancerous body tissue on cigarette packages. The recommendation was approved on 30 November by the European Council, which includes ministers from all EU nations and is the EU’s main decision making body.

    Martina Pötschke-Langer, head of the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Tobacco Control in Heidelberg, Germany, told the BMJ the recommendation, which is based on a proposal developed by the European Commission, is very important in the effort to protect all EU citizens from second hand smoke.

    “The commission knows very well that within the European Union there are big differences in protection against the exposure to tobacco smoke,” said Dr Pötschke-Langer, also head of the Cancer Prevention Unit of the German Cancer Research Centre. “The recommendation puts pressure on those governments which have not yet introduced and enforced 100% smoke free laws in public places, including the hospitality sector.”

    EU states with the best laws to protect non-smokers in public and on the job are Ireland, the UK, Scandinavian nations, and Lithuania, followed by France and Italy, she said. “At the bottom of the list are member states such as Austria, Portugal, Spain, Greece, and Germany, which still allow smoking areas, especially in the hospitality sector,” she added.

    Nina Papadoulaki, spokeswoman for Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou, told the BMJ that the Council recommendation stems from a so-called “green paper” (an EU document on a specific topic issued to stimulate debate) published in January 2007 titled Towards a Europe free from tobacco smoke: policy options at EU level. “The Green Paper consultation showed clear support for comprehensive smoke free policies and for EU action,” she said.

    Towards that goal, the commission on 30 June (2009) adopted a 19 page “Proposal for Council Recommendation on smoke-free environments,” she said, adding that the European Parliament on 26 November adopted a resolution supporting the commission’s proposal.

    The commission will coordinate implementation of the recommendation via an EU wide network of “focal points on tobacco control” in member nations, said Ms Papadoulaki. “The idea is that member states will cooperate closely among themselves and with the commission to agree on common benchmarks and indicators for the implementation of the recommendation,” she added.

    Dr Pötschke-Langer said the German Cancer Research Centre fully supports the recommendation and believes it will help to change attitudes at the national level. “However, we feel that the Council could and should have gone beyond the instrument ‘recommendation’, as it is not legally binding,” she said. “Instead of providing positive and strong lip service to the WHO-FCTC [Framework Convention on Tobacco Control], the Council missed the opportunity to come up with a legally binding instrument, such as a “directive on smoke free areas.”

    Notes

    Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b5431

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