1 June at 20:30 CET on Europe by Satellite

Do smoking bans work?

Short description:

On the occasion of World anti Tobacco day on 31 May, SEETV proposes a feature on measures taken against smoking in EU countries. Focus on Belgium, where a new smoking ban in restaurants is in place since January this year. Does it work? Are clients happy? Or is there a drop in clients for restaurant owners? This feature of about 4 minutes explores what are the effects of smoking bans in public places in countries where these measures have been introduced. Link with the Balkans.

Full transcript of commentary and interviews

The year 2007 has brought an important change in the student quarter of Brussels: as of 1st January smoking has been banned in all restaurants in Belgium. It is crowded in this restaurant during lunch time – but what is missing now is the usual clouds of tobacco smoke.

Student

I cannot say whether it is a big change because I’m not a smoker. But I don’t understand why anyone would be against the ban. It’s only normal that people who don’t want to smoke are not obliged because someone else is smoking. It’s a shame that we had to adopt a law to prevent this.

Student

I think it’s OK, since it’s not very pleasant to sit and eat clouded in smoke.

Those who are not too happy with the latest rules are the owners, who fear that they will loose many guests because of the smoking ban.

Restaurant owner

Our numbers show that it is different now. Before, people used to take a drink after meal, now they don’t do it anymore and many simply don’t come. People will perhaps adapt with time but for sure there is a certain drop in clients.

In this restaurant they have figured out how to retain their clients. Since smoking is still allowed in cafés and bars, they have decided to build a separate smoking bar, where guests can move to for a smoke and a drink after meals.

Restaurant owner

The conditions are draconian. We are required to make premises completely isolated from the rest of the restaurant; it must be closed, have a smoke purifier and has to have enough ventilation in order to avoid the guests be in too much smoke.

But those who spend their entire working day in a restaurant are quite happy with the change.

Waiter:

It’s a good thing. We can finally brief a little bit of fresh air. As for the atmosphere: I don’t see why smokers would be unhappy during one hour that they spend here. I think this is good for their health as well; if it entices them to quit smoking, then all the better.

Guest:

I was a big smoker, but I ultimately ended up in the hospital, because they suspected a dangerous problem in my case. I was operated and have been able to see the conditions of some people caused by tobacco. So, I don’t smoke anymore and I think that we should simply respect the people who are not smokers.

Belgium was not the first EU country to ban smoking in restaurants – it happened already in Ireland, Italyand Sweden. This year Englandand Franceshould follow. Tobacco smoke slowly but surely disappears from the public spaces. What a difference compared with just a few years ago when smoking was so normal – even on meetings of heads of states.

But it didn’t come overnight. In Belgium, smoking was banned twenty years ago in buses, three years ago in trains and airplanes, and only a year ago at workplaces. The key words were public health protection and “de-normalization” of smoking.

Luc Joossens, Belgian Foundation for Combating Cancer

There is no doubt that passive smoking represents a serious health risk and that everyone should have the possibility to work in an environment free of tobacco smoke. That is the main principle. Those who work in clean and healthy conditions will work better. The first task is to protect everyone from passive smoking, and that will affect the level of cigarette sales.

This is the usual sight in front of business buildings since smoking was banned on the workplace. A European Commission analysis say that, in addition to being a health risk, smoking represents a huge economic burden: it decreases productivity and raises costs. One of the measures adopted in Brusselsare warnings on packs, which in some countries will take the form of pictures.

In most of the Balkan countries, however, there is still full freedom of smoking. One could even see a touristic potential there in attracting disappointed European smokers. But statistics presented by the European Commission are not a joke – tobacco smoke is the biggest single cause of mortality in Europe, responsible for the death of half of million Europeans per year..

Philip Tod, European Commission Spokesperson

There are some encouraging signs that the overall number of smokers is decreasing throughout Europe. By taking different actions such as laws, campaigns etc. we send the message that the smoking is very bad for your health and that you should quit.

Smoking bans are not the competence of Brusselsbut of the Member states. Sooner or later everybody will have to face it, including the Balkans. For those who think that Europe has gone too far with bans and rules, look what Japanhas in store.

Journalist from Japan

In some quarters of Tokyo, for example, it is forbidden to smoke even on the street in front of buildings. The system works, there are patrols that oversee the ban and are empowered to issue fines to those who don’t respect it.

Compared to this, Brussels is still on the soft side...