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Winter, 2007

An EU-Wide Smoke Ban in the Works?

A ban on smoking in public spaces across all nations of the European Union is a very real possibility as the European Commission launches a debate on whether to introduce a piece of smoke-free legislation binding on all member states.

EU health commissioner Markos Kyprianou has issued a so-called “green paper” that takes a favorable view of the examples set by Ireland, Italy, Malta, and Sweden on public smoking.

There are two options laid down in the commission’s paper.

The more stringent approach proposes “a total ban on smoking in all enclosed or substantially enclosed workplaces and public places, including means of public transport.”

Restrictions could also be extended to “outdoor areas around entrances to buildings and possibly to other outdoor place where people sit or stand close to each other, such as open-air stadiums, bus shelters, or train platforms.”

The second option proposes “exemptions granted to selected categories of venue,” e.g., hospitality establishments that do not serve food.

Apart from the smoke-free initiative, how much Brussels has to say on the issue is also to be decided, with the paper suggesting several options ranging from no new activity on the part of the EU to rules that are legally binding.

Currently, at EU level, the issue of a smoke-free environment has been addressed mainly in work safety directives and in non-binding recommendations, which invite member states to ban smoking in indoor workplaces, enclosed public places and public transport.

However, national legislation differs widely across the 27-nation block.

Smoking in all enclosed public places and workplaces has already been outlawed in Ireland and Scotland, with the UK coming on board by the summer of 2007. Italy, Malta, and Sweden have also walked down the ban route, although permitting employers to create specially sealed-off smoking rooms with separate ventilation systems. That’s also the approach taken by France, whose smoke ban kicked off in January, and Finland, which is set to follow shortly.

At present, EU capitals prefer to manage the process themselves rather than granting powers to Brussels’ executive body on the issue. All 27 member countries already have some type of smoking restrictions.

Ireland was the first country in the world to introduce a smoking ban in pubs, restaurants, and other enclosed workplaces in 2004, and the German government is currently attempting to introduce some relatively modest smoking restrictions. 

Since all the member countries are doing what each feels is in the best interests of its citizens and businesses, this latest move by the European Commission raises some interesting questions about where its powers lie and what limits, if any, the Commission is bound by. A transnational smoking ban would certainly be a litmus test, the results of which could have far-reaching implications going forward.

- Michael Browne

Distribution International - Winter, 2007

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