An EU-wide ban on smoking in public spaces could be put in the pipeline after the European Commission on Tuesday (30 January) launches a debate on whether to introduce a piece of smoke-free legislation binding on all member states.
EU health commissioner Markos Kyprianou is to issue a so-called green paper that takes a favourable 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, seen by EUobserver.
A most stringent approach envisages "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 paper says.
The second option—and "a less effective one" according to the commission's paper—proposes "exemptions granted to selected categories of venue", e.g. hospitality establishments that do no 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 all 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.
France and Finland are set to take the same route in the coming days and weeks.
However, it is expected that EU capitals will prefer to manage the process themselves rather than granting powers to Brussels' executive body on the issue.
There have been concerns about possible harm to the hospitality industry in some EU member states, but current statistics prove rather ambiguous.
For instance, non-EU Norway has experienced a slight fall of 0.8 percent in sales in eating and drinking establishments, while in Ireland the volume of sales in bars and pubs increased by 0.1 percent.
But last polls—carried out in the EU-25 last year—show that 84 percent of Europeans favour a smoking ban in any indoor public space, with Ireland, Italy and Sweden leading the chart.
More than 79,000 adults die each year as a result of so-called second hand smoking.