EU health chief proposes stricter laws on smoking

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union’s health chief proposed on Tuesday that uniform laws be drafted for all 27 countries in the bloc to regulate smoking more strictly in public areas and workplaces.

European Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou addresses a news conference on smoke free environments at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, June 30, 2009.REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Many EU countries have laws limiting exposure to second-hand, or passive, smoking. The rules are strictest in Britain and Ireland, where smoking is banned in enclosed public places, public transport and workplaces, including restaurants and bars.

“Each and every European should be entitled to full protection from tobacco smoke,” EU Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou told a news conference.

The recommendation calls on all member states to implement laws that will limit exposure to tobacco smoke in public places, workplaces and public transport, and aims to protect children.

“We have come a long way from the days when smoking was considered glamorous,” Vassiliou said.

She said in countries with looser regulations on smoking, nearly one in five people were exposed to tobacco smoke in the workplace.

Second-hand, or passive, smoke has been linked to heart disease and lung cancer. According to estimates given by Vassiliou, 19,000 non-smokers in the EU died due to second-hand smoke at home and in workplaces in 2002.

Member states decide the level of their smoking restrictions. In Belgium, for example, smoking is allowed in restaurants in separate rooms where no food is served, and smoking is banned in all enclosed workplaces.

Greece, Europe’s heaviest smoking nation, is to introduce a ban on tobacco in indoor public places from Wednesday. The country breaks all European records, with more than 40 percent of the population smoking and six out of 10 being exposed to smoking at work, according to an EU poll.

Only 10 member states have comprehensive laws, Vassiliou said.

A poll last year by EU survey group Eurobarometer said 84 percent of respondents supported smoke-free offices and other indoor workplaces, 77 percent were in favor of smoke-free restaurants, and 61 percent supported smoke-free bars and pubs.

Reporting by Caroline Linton, editing by Mark Trevelyan