Members' Research Service By / August 23, 2017

Smoke-free for better health [What is Europe doing for its citizens?]

Written by Nicole Scholz, Smoking is the largest preventable cause of death in Europe. In the past decade, EU laws…

© chombosan / Fotolia

Written by Nicole Scholz,

passive smoking concept, second hand smoking, involuntary smoking
© chombosan / Fotolia

Smoking is the largest preventable cause of death in Europe. In the past decade, EU laws on tobacco additives, advertising and packaging have reinforced efforts to deter people, especially the young, from taking up smoking. The ‘Ex-Smokers are Unstoppable’ campaign has helped many kick the habit. Today, taking their lead from the 2004 Irish ban on smoking in workplaces, diverse actions protect Europeans from breathing in harmful ‘second-hand’ smoke (or ‘passive smoking’) in public venues.

Health risks of active and passive smoking

Eurostat data (2014) show that in the EU, one in every four persons aged 15 or over is a smoker, and that one in five is exposed to ‘second-hand’ smoke coming from lit cigarettes or being exhaled by smokers. Smoking is responsible for about 90 % of lung cancers. It also causes other forms of cancer, including of the mouth, lips, throat, larynx, oesophagus, bladder, kidney, liver and pancreas. It damages the heart and blood circulation, raising the risk of cardiovascular diseases, and can lead to lung conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and pneumonia. Passive smoking increases non-smokers’ risk of developing the same health problems as smokers. Babies and children are particularly vulnerable to its effects. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke, and it has been classified as ‘carcinogenic to humans’. Non-smokers breathing in second-hand smoke in the workplace are at a 16-19 % increased risk of developing lung cancer. The risk of acute coronary syndrome is 25-35 % higher among passive smokers, and they also suffer from chronic respiratory diseases, such as asthma, more frequently.

EU action to promote smoke-free environments

The EU’s tobacco policy is mainly aimed at protecting people from the harmful effects of active and passive smoking. The measures range from legislation to awareness-raising, and include, among other things:

A 2014 Eurobarometer survey illustrated that exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke continued to decline. In the past six months, only 12 % of respondents had been exposed to smoke in restaurants, and 25 % in bars. Some 73 % of workers in Europe had rarely or never been exposed to smoke indoors in their workplace.

This note has been prepared by EPRS for the European Parliament’s Open Days in May 2017.

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