Europe’s smoking bans: a dangerous habit

A new report reveals the extent to which smoking bans are eliminating individual freedom.

Guillaume Périgois

Topics Politics UK World

Close your eyes and picture the scene.

You are sitting at a small round table on a terrace sipping a coffee. Around you is the happy buzz created by others chatting, perhaps enjoying a beer or a glass of wine. A few are eating, too. Some are enjoying a cigarette with their drinks, and one man is even smoking a pipe. Waiters hurry back and forth, taking and delivering orders.

In fact, you might not need to close your eyes. You could be reading this in just such a café, somewhere in Europe. The mellowness, the relaxed combination of sociability, work (some of the clientele are wearing suits) and mild vices. It is an unmistakably European scene, familiar from Brussels to Brindisi.

Yet a very un-European shadow is starting to dim this happy picture: the shadow of prohibition.

Somehow, the perfectly sensible desire to allow people to visit cafes and restaurants without subjecting them to clouds of tobacco smoke has morphed into a relentless continent-wide campaign to persecute smokers, however discreetly they pursue their habit.

The smokers’ campaign group Forest EU has just published a report on the state of anti-smoker regulations across Europe, and it makes for rather worrying reading.

In many countries, restrictions on smoking have spread from public bars and invaded all sorts of private and public spaces where they are clearly unwarranted. We now see ‘no smoking’ signs in parks, on terraces and on beaches, where the long-term health risks of outdoor passive smoking are virtually non-existent. As of this summer, it is forbidden to smoke on 50 French beaches and in 52 Parisian public parks.

Well-funded anti-smoking campaigners are now urging bans in the most private of spaces, too: peoples’ cars and even their homes. In Lithuania, newly proposed legislation would prohibit the use of tobacco products on apartment balconies and terraces. In Finland, municipalities can already impose smoking bans on private balconies. In Latvia, private places are subject to a child-protection law stipulating that the exposure of a child to tobacco smoke represents a form of physical abuse.

Are we in Europe really facing the prospect of state officials knocking on doors late in the evening to check if we have been smoking at the kitchen table? This may sound alarmist, but it’s not. Society is moving towards the prohibition of tobacco, and that means intrusive enforcement that threatens carefully nurtured European traditions of respect for the freedom and privacy of the individual.

You might think that the tobacco issue is trifling, but restrictions in this sphere will quickly spread (and are already spreading) into others. Just this month, citing smoking bans as a blueprint, the UK’s former chief medical officer, Sally Davies, called for a ban on eating and drinking on public transport.

At the root of this trend is a shift in the motivation of anti-tobacco campaigners. Originally, the various regulations around the sale of tobacco were related to the clear dangers that smoking poses to the health of the smoker. Now, citing concern over those exposed to other people’s smoke, the campaign has transformed itself into a kind of moral crusade against tobacco. Campaigners now want to prohibit people from smoking even if it poses no threat to anyone but smokers themselves.

The campaign has even targeted vaping, an alternative to smoking that is weaning millions off cigarettes. Two weeks ago, the Dutch government mooted plans to extend smoking bans in public places to vaping. And the Netherlands isn’t an isolated case: 12 EU member states include both e-cigarettes and heat-not-burn products in their smoking ban legislation.

This act of regulatory vandalism surely proves the point: we now seem to be persecuting those who use nicotine, even if it actively damages efforts to turn people away from smoking. How have we reached this regrettable state of affairs?

Smoking is a legal habit in which one quarter of European adults legitimately indulge. Everybody knows the serious health implications, so clearly the role of the state must limit itself to sensible reminders of these risks, plus proportionate measures to restrict smoking in indoor public areas, so non-smokers are not inconvenienced.

Instead, we are witnessing an increasingly intrusive, hostile and illiberal campaign that demonises smokers, apparently on moral grounds.

An EU recommendation passed in 2009 set reasonable guidelines based on the health and convenience concerns around second-hand smoke in enclosed areas. But this balanced approach is now being gold-plated in several European countries, as well as at the EU level itself, with lobbies pushing for bans that go far beyond its core principles.

But not everywhere. Fortunately, there still exist more enlightened and liberal regulatory regimes here and there across the continent, which apply a reasoned and proportionate response to smoking. Our research at Forest EU draws on these examples in nine European countries to draw up a set of principles that can be applied to smoking and vaping, based on the sensible intentions of the original EU recommendations.

First, smoking bans should not be imposed in outside areas where there is no risk or inconvenience from secondhand smoke. Second, bans should not be attempted in private property such as houses. And, third, where possible, well-ventilated, separate smoking rooms should be allowed in indoor public areas where there is a demand for them and proprietors choose to install them. This could of course include pubs, cafes and restaurants, but could also include larger spaces where smokers need to spend long periods of time, such as airports and train stations.

These measures represent a proportionate response to the issue of smoking, and can form the basis of principles that can be applied to all sorts of other lifestyle choices. What is more, they are in line with public preferences. Opinion polling shows that 70 per cent of Europeans agree that cafés, pubs and restaurants should be allowed to provide a well-ventilated, designated smoking room to accommodate smokers.

It’s time to take a stand, not just on behalf of smokers, but on behalf of a certain European spirit that believes in tolerance, open-mindedness and a reasonable approach to law-making.

Guillaume Périgois is the director of smokers’ campaign Forest EU.

‘Smoking in Society – The pitfalls of extreme smoking bans in Europe and an inclusive way forward’ is published by Forest EU.

Picture by: Getty.

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Dave Ferguson

24th February 2020 at 6:38 am

What about my right as a non smoker not to have my air polluted. Whether it causes or harm or not, that is my right to enjoy un-polluted air. That is my fundamental right. A glass of wine at home does not harm my neighbours above.

I’ve yet to meet a considerate smoker – all seem to not care about others health. If smokers want to ruin theirs, so be it. I have more respect for herion users than smokers, at least they don’t force me to shoot up with them.

It is about time that smoking was banned totally. If you want the nicotine – get a patch.

Robert Larkin

10th November 2019 at 1:38 pm

As others have already stated, it’s a dangerous road to go down, where does it stop? In most, seemingly, democratic countries, the smoking ban is in full swing and getting more rigid, countries that in every other way are all encompassing, smokers are the only part of society that can be legally discriminated against. So when smokers are considered to be ‘conquered’ who will be the next victim? Who can be ‘proved’ to be detrimental to society, the old, the poor, the disabled?

Sarah Falkenbach

25th October 2019 at 10:35 am

Banning smoking on balconies of apartment buildings would be the right step. I have nothing against smokers in public parks eg. Because there I can move away from the smokers and go somewhere else. Even in restaurants or bars I would be fine with smoking areas because nobody forces me to go there.

But at home?! I live in a small apartment building with 4 apartments. And everybody except me smokes heavily on their balconies. I can never leave the windows open or sleep with the windows open because at least one of them keeps smoking until 2 am in the morning and then starting again from 6am. It is disgusting. My apartment smells like a cigarette bin because of my neighbours? How could that be in any way okay?

Scott Ewing

26th October 2019 at 6:21 pm

I have been a landlord for 23 years. As the anti-smoking movement began to get traction, I had to make a decision as to whether alienate 25% of my potential tenants or continuing to allow smoking. I have since spent over 2000 hours investigating whether the claims of the anti-smokers had any merit. They do not. In fact, anti-smoking is the biggest boondoggle since prohibition and perhaps of all time. Even using the anti-smoking cabal’s own statistics, 80,000 people would have to work 40 years in an
unventilated, ‘Mad Men’ type environment to add one extra death. This is a statistical hiccup. Not anything that a rational person would get upset about. As for the real world, having met with over 300 prospective tenants, exactly one has declined to rent from me because I allow smoking in my buildings. You are a small minority.

Jerry Owen

29th October 2019 at 9:11 am

In all fairness Sarah was talking about the smell in her flat. She has a point .. BTW I am all in favour of smokers rights.

N Oodles

24th October 2019 at 9:22 pm

As a non-smoker I am outraged at what I see as persecution of smokers. I don’t smoke but 100% support the right of others to do so. We are all going to die anyway whatever, so what is the point of trying to remove risk where the cost of removing it is so high. It is out-of-control governments and media which should be banned.

Ven Oods

24th October 2019 at 7:11 pm

As an ex-smoker determined never to lapse (again) I avoid smoke like the plague.
However, I could never see an argument against providing smoking areas where others would not be bothered by smoke.
I suppose it’d help if smokers would agree that fag-ends are litter and treat them as such. But it’s hardly the same problem as the acres of discarded crap around most fast food outlets.

michael savell

24th October 2019 at 5:34 pm

To think that it wasn’t all that long ago when people used to compliment each other on their choice of tobacco for it’s aromatic fragrance,when the medical profession was writing it up for preventing nasty things like depression,obesity,parkinsons,alzheimers,all the nerve diseases.How many people are suffering from one or more of those drawbacks now?I hope the great unwashed public will not complain when the NHS buckles under the strain and can no longer cope to the point it has to resort to health insurance for each and everyone, prices dependent on height ,weight,age and medical condition just like they do on the beloved continent.Still,nobody in the UK
will probably have to worry about smoking the peace pipe,they all hate each other for some unknown reason,sad to see the demise of what,in my youth,during ww2,was a great country,a country where people could have the fiercest of debates and still have a pint and a fag afterwards.Now one is just as likely to get murdered.”Huberts law strikes again,progress means deterioration”No more argument means dictatorship by those willing to turn life into a living hell.

John Marks

24th October 2019 at 1:51 pm

No better argument has been made against these illiberal policies than Bernard Levin’s wonderful “No Smoke . . .” (Times, 22/12/1983) and ” . . . without Fire” (Times, 20/1/1984).
The essays are available in his published compilation “The Way We Live Now”, pp. 69-76.

Stephen J

24th October 2019 at 8:50 am

It is odd really to observe the folk of the Mediterranean parts of the EU, sitting around smoking… I mean why not, the politicians have removed any opportunities that there might have been for some paid work, when we know just how dangerous the activity is.

I mean the longest living people in the EU, smoke the most.

Perhaps the policy needs to be rethought?

Perhaps we can move the sun and the sea so that the rest of us “Europeans” can have some?

Or perhaps not, perhaps we need to shut up and take our medicine and keep our counsel, like good proles.

Stephen J

24th October 2019 at 8:46 am

It is odd really to observe the folk of the Mediterranean parts of the EU, sitting around smoking… I mean why not, the politicians have removed any opportunities that there might have been for some paid work, when we know just how dangerous the activity is.

I mean the longest living people in the EU, smoke the most.

Perhaps the policy needs to be rethought?

Perhaps we can move the sun and the sea so that the rest of us “Europeans” can have some?

Or perhaps not, perhaps we need to shut up and take our medicine and stfu like good proles.

Jerry Owen

24th October 2019 at 8:08 am

I have never smoked but I support the right of smokers to smoke as highlighted by this author .
George Orwell’s 1984 had microphones in people’s homes. What next in 2019 , smoke detectors built into people’s homes as standard ?
We are moving into a dictatorship in Europe.
Extremely chilling times indeed.
Abolish the EU.

Tubbers McGee

24th October 2019 at 8:11 am

And what do you say of the child who is forced to remain in a confined space such as a car, or small room, with two adult smokers, day in, day out, for years on end? By the time the child is old enough to leave, the long term damage has been done.

Stephen J

24th October 2019 at 10:00 am

As far as I know the longest public health survey amongst smokers and their families proved that there were no health risks related to passive smoking. The only person that might suffer any problems were the smokers themselves and that at a much lower level than the scaremongers would want us to know.

So naturally the important thing to do in the face of such evidence is to first cover it up and second let it be known that some “big tobacco” money is involved in the said survey, in order to queer the pitch because every defender has something to hide…. Don’t they?

Jerry Owen

24th October 2019 at 10:14 am

T McGee
It is abundantly clear in the article above that smoking in confined areas is not acceptable.. it helps greatly to read an article first then the chances of looking like an uninformed fool when commenting is greatly diminished !
Your post is dramatic beyond parody.

Lord Anubis

24th October 2019 at 5:27 pm

Some years ago I visited a children’s ward to see my young niece. Whilst this wasn’t her particular problem. “Most” of the under threes in the ward were there for severe respiratory disease. A Medic commented that almost all of those children came from family’s where the parents were smokers…

Ven Oods

24th October 2019 at 7:24 pm

“there were no health risks related to passive smoking.”
A 2010 WHO report claimed that the annual toll (worldwide) for child passive smoking is 165,000, of a total 600,000. Didn’t read the report, just the headline.

Scott Ewing

25th October 2019 at 9:12 am

Ven odds- There are NO studies to support that claim. You are basing your opinion on what they say it says, not what it actually says. Anti-smoking nuts have never let a little thing like facts interrupt their narrative.

Dave Ferguson

24th February 2020 at 6:49 am

Exactly right-on. Sadly I think you and I are the only “humans” here – the rest are paid for the Big Tobacco.

Leon Kershaw

24th October 2019 at 12:49 pm

Many people have already chosen to have microphones in their houses such as Alexa.
That’s where Orwell was a little off course. He envisaged that such measures would be forced on people whereas these days people choose to be surveiled.

Jerry Owen

24th October 2019 at 12:56 pm

Leon Kershaw
Alexa is for information , you input a question it output’s an answer.
Orwell’s 1984 which clearly you haven’t read and should, is about a microphone for the state ( Big Brother ) to listen in on you 24/7 and punish you for ‘wrongspeak’.

Jerry Owen

24th October 2019 at 12:57 pm

Leon Kershaw
Where is you evidence that people want to be surveilled ?

Leon Kershaw

24th October 2019 at 1:26 pm

Alexa has an ‘always on’ microphone & there is evidence that conversations have been ‘listened’ to by Amazon & stored for who knows what uses.
The huge data collection by Google & others such as browsing history, location etc is well known. Also Snowden demonstrated how all such data is collected by the NSA & shared with GCHQ.
Jerry Owen.
It’s well known what’s going on yet people are still happy to use smartphones, Google Search etc
For wrongspeak we now have hate speech & many have been visited by the police to ‘check their thinking’ when using Twitter etc.
If you’re not aware of this then you should really keep up.

Jerry Owen

29th October 2019 at 9:13 am

Leon Kershaw
Once again where is your evidence that people wish to be spied on ?

Tubbers McGee

24th October 2019 at 8:07 am

Having a smoking section in a restaurant or pub is like having a pissing section in the swimming pool.

Ed Turnbull

24th October 2019 at 8:29 am

What part of ” a well-ventilated, designated smoking *room*” is unclear to you? Is it that you struggle with reading and comprehension? Or is the concept of a *separate room* alien to you?

Tubbers McGee

24th October 2019 at 8:50 am

Well it’s good we can discuss the matter without vitriol.

The trouble with a separate room is that people continually enter and leave, allowing the smoke to permeate the rest of the establishment and ruin it for everyone else.

And what of the staff who are obliged to serve the customers in that room? Do they have a say?

Jerry Owen

24th October 2019 at 12:03 pm

T McGee
A smokers room is just that .. you don’t get served in a smokers room , you get served at a bar or you get served in a restaurant at the table.
‘Smokers room’ it is self descriptive !

Allan Marshall

25th October 2019 at 3:16 am

You’d think, it’d be obvious! Also to Tubbers McGee, in my opinion it should be allowed for any employees who legitimately not want to enter such a room where smoking is allowed, to have that right. Though I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who wouldn’t be affected health-wise, to work in such a smoking room. But for those who are legitimately affected by being in the presence of smoking in such an area/room where smoking is allowed, they should be allowed the right to not work in such an area and be reassigned to work somewhere else.

Matt Ryan

24th October 2019 at 8:40 am

And the risk are the same also. The piss dilutes in the pool to the point where you don’t notice it and the smoke is diffused enough in the air to have little/no effect.

Ed Turnbull

24th October 2019 at 1:36 pm

Actually Tubbers no vitriol intended (you’d know if I was being vitriolic, believe me), but it can’t be ignored that you used a false equivalent.

As for smoke permeating the rest of the establishment, well here’s a little factoid of which I suspect you’re unaware: they actually had a smoking room on The Hindenburg. Yes, on a flying machine lifted by 7 million cubic feet of a highly inflammable lifting gas, they managed to find a way of keeping any errant hydrogen away from lighted ciggies. And how did they do it? Simple: a pressure differential between the smoking room and the rest of the airship. You see Tubbers, the tech is nearly 90 years old. Your argument doesn’t hold water. Now admit that your animus against smokers (and I’m not one myself) is simply because you can’t stand to see someone doing something of which you disapprove.

Dave Ferguson

24th February 2020 at 6:47 am

And you want businesses to pay for all this expensive to pander to smokers? One of the biggest issues I have with cigarettes is that they don’t kill their users fast enough.

N Oodles

24th October 2019 at 9:28 pm

Smoking and non-smoking areas worked well and the system was a reasonable compromise. Banning smoking is intolerably intolerant.

Dave Ferguson

24th February 2020 at 6:43 am

Sadly you are indeed correct. I’m tired of pandering to smokers needs – what about mine for clean fresh air? I bet most of the comments were paid from the Tobacco lobby.

Let’s start a campaign to ban smoking completely – from all places. Including private homes, vehicles and we might actually get some progress.

Scott Ewing

24th October 2019 at 6:19 am

It was NEVER about health. There are no studies on SHS that are statistically significant. That hasn’t stopped sanctimonious busy bodies from saying that it is a health crisis. The issue isn’t that this loud mouthed minority exists, it’s that anyone would even give them the time of day.

Jerry Owen

24th October 2019 at 8:11 am

Unfortunately I the ‘loud mouthed minority ‘ are tentacles of government.
This is how dictatorships start.

Allan Marshall

25th October 2019 at 3:11 am


Dave Ferguson

24th February 2020 at 6:46 am

Have you been reading too much again from the tobacco lobby?

Amin Readh

24th October 2019 at 1:29 am

It is a nasty habit. It should be allowed to die.

“We now see ‘no smoking’ signs in parks”

Gosh, that’s a surprise!

Scott Ewing

24th October 2019 at 6:21 am

So, because YOU don’t like it, everyone everywhere who smokes should be treated like a second class citizen?

Dave Ferguson

24th February 2020 at 6:45 am

Because lets face it – they usually are.

Nothing screams selfish ***’s like a smoker. Perhaps you are the only one who has a moral compass, but I bet you whip out your death sticks anywhere and everwhere.

Ed Turnbull

24th October 2019 at 8:34 am

You really don’t grasp the fundamental principle here do you? What’s going to happen when – not if – some regime comes along that seeks to ban something *you* enjoy doing (such as spewing insufferable sanctimonious claptrap)? You’ll have no moral high ground from which to wail and gnash your teeth, will you?

But I guess you and I’d differ on what constitutes ‘morality’.

Jerry Owen

24th October 2019 at 10:17 am

Amin Readh
Hows the sharp knife you have for me should we ever meet.. Still sharp eh ?

Allan Marshall

25th October 2019 at 3:10 am

It’s really stupid and NOT right, to cheer on further encroachments on personal liberties! If you do this, you’re essentially begging down the road for more further encroachments and bans and further taxation to occur, on other personal activities you may like to do. I.e. eat junk food, vaping, soda/soft drinks, list goes on and on that the nannies will later target after cigarettes.

Dave Ferguson

24th February 2020 at 6:44 am

If you eating junk food directly affects me, you might have a point. But you do not.

Dave Ferguson

24th February 2020 at 6:48 am

Indeed is a truly disgusting and violates the rights of those around them.

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