NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 5, 2009

A new antismoking law goes into effect this month in Austria, one of the last European countries to tighten rules on lighting up in public spaces.

Yet, the law's many exceptions -- eateries can avoid creating nonsmoking sections, tobacco companies can continue to hand out free cigarettes and smoking is allowed in college dorms -- highlight a deeper predicament across Europe.  Although countries including France, Britain and Italy have introduced bans on smoking in public, Europeans are having a hard time stamping out their nicotine habit. In some cases, that has forced governments to soften antismoking legislation.

  • In Italy, nearly as many people smoke as did before Rome passed a law in 2005 prohibiting smoking in cafés, according to the Health Ministry.
  • In July, a federal court in Germany, after a slew of lawsuits from restaurateurs, ruled that one-room pubs don't have to offer separate rooms for smokers and nonsmokers.
  • Spain banned smoking in public places in 2006, but the law contains loopholes and is loosely enforced. In practice, people can smoke in most bars, and most restaurants allow smoking for fear of a backlash from consumers.

Lighting up doesn't carry the social stigma in Europe that it carries in the U.S.

But smoking has become a heavy burden for Europe's state-run social-welfare systems, with smoking-related diseases costing well over $100 billion a year.

Sigrid Rosenberger, a spokeswoman for Austria's health minister Alois Stöger, says his goal is for fewer people to smoke in fewer locations. He plans to monitor the new law's effects in 2009, she says, before deciding on possible amendments.

Source:  "Europe's Smoking Culture Lingers, Despite Bans," Wall Street Journal, January 2, 2009.

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