Europe is the ashtray of the world. More than one in four Europeans are smokers, and half of them will die prematurely because of it, shortening their life by 14 years on average. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, Europe has the highest prevalence of smokers among adults in the world (28% compared to a global average of 21%). Europe also has one of the highest proportions of deaths attributed to tobacco use.
At a time when healthcare systems across the EU are coming under increasing pressure from budget cuts and ageing populations, breaking Europe’s smoking habit could make a real difference. The WHO calls smoking the “single most preventable cause of death and disease”. According to the European Commission, tobacco consumption is responsible for nearly 700,000 deaths in the EU every year. In addition, smokers tend to suffer poorer health during their lives (including increased risk of cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases), which means they place a greater burden on health systems.
Worryingly, there’s little sign that smoking is going out of fashion. In fact, tobacco use among young Europeans is increasing, and in some countries (such as the Czech Republic, Latvia, or Lithuania) smoking among adolescents is on par with that among adults. The WHO predicts that, unless it accelerates efforts, Europe will miss its target of a 30% relative reduction in the number of smokers by 2025.
Obviously, the average figures disguise a great deal of variation across the continent. In Sweden, the proportion of daily smokers is less than 9%, ranging all the way up to 27% in Greece and Bulgaria. Likewise, the public health response also varies from country to country, with many EU Member States placing strict bans on smoking in enclosed public spaces (including bars and restaurants), whereas others either have no ban at all or allow smoking in designated areas. Currently, only 17 out of 28 EU countries have a total indoors public smoking ban in place.
There is growing evidence of the positive impact on public health of so-called “smoking bans” in bars and restaurants. However, the issue is divisive politically, even becoming an electoral issue in Austria in 2017. Opponents argue it is another case of the “nanny state” trying to manage people’s lives. They argue that smokers actually contribute more in tax than they cost as a burden on healthcare systems.
Should smoking be banned in restaurants and bars across the EU? Or should governments stay out of individual decisions? What about the increased burden that smokers place on health systems? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!