Regular readers will know that we’ve previously covered the various approaches to quitting smoking in some detail; including mental techniques and the best ways to avoid relapse.

In this piece, we’ll be discussing the effects of secondhand smoke; and how EU laws have changed over the years in order to protect nonsmokers from the dangerous effects of this.

In many countries around the world, tobacco is a taxable source of revenue for governments, but the effects of cigarette smoke poses a significant burden on society and public health.

Anti-smoking charity ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) estimates that the total cost of smoking in England is approximately £13.9 billion each year.

This has prompted governments to take a harder stance against smoking. Over the last decade and a half, most EU countries have implemented some form of smoking ban legislation.

Inevitably, this varies from country to country and some EU member states are stricter when it comes to enforcing the law.

How dangerous is secondhand smoke?

Secondhand smoke is made up of both exhaled mainstream smoke and sidestream smoke; and this combination can be up to four times more chemically potent than that typically inhaled by the smoker.

  • Carbon monoxide levels are increased by approximately three times.

  • Nitrosamines (a carcinogenic) are increased by between 10-30 times.

  • Ammonia (a toxin with irritant qualities) reaches between 15-300 times more.

According to the British Lung Foundation more than 10,000 people die in the UK each year due to passive smoking.

Non-smokers may develop some immediate symptoms when they come into contact with tobacco smoke such as:

  • irritated eyes

  • coughing

  • nausea

  • dizziness

  • and headache

Passive smoking can also become a cause of long-term health issues. Prolonged exposure over a number of years can lead to:

  • lung cancer (20-30 percent increased risk)

  • coronary heart disease (25-35 percent increased risk)

  • heart attack

  • heart failure

  • or stroke

Children and passive smoking

The potential health complications for children exposed to passive smoke are deeply concerning. Children with parents that smoke may be up to three times more likely to develop an associated health condition, such as:

  • asthma

  • bronchitis

  • meningitis

  • pneumonia

  • coughs

  • colds

  • ear infections

  • hearing loss

These dangers led the UK government to introduce a smoking ban in vehicles where under-18s are present. The law only came into effect in October 2015 however, so compliance levels and efficacy are not yet clear.

The smoking bans: who came first?


The first step towards a smoking ban was taken by Italy in 1962 when televised advertising of foreign tobacco was banned.

The United Kingdom was quick to follow suit and imposed TV advertising restrictions on cigarettes in 1965, however these did not cover loose tobacco and cigars until 1991.

Since the 1970s, the numbers of smokers in the UK has steadily decreased.

Germany imposed their own television advertising ban on tobacco products ten years later in 1975, whilst the rest of Europe eventually caught up in 1991.

Print advertising of tobacco products was permitted for a much longer amount of time although it was subject to some restrictions. For example images of people shown to be smoking were prohibited. Most European countries implemented print laws after 2001.



Explanatory notes:

Country Restaurant and bars  Public places
Austria Restrictions dependent on establishment size, however, by 2018 all restaurants will have to conform regardless of size. Smoking rooms permitted. Smoking on public transport was banned in 2007.
Belgium Establishments that only offer light snacks were initally exempt but all food outlets were brought under the law in 2011. Ventilated smoking rooms permitted under strict conditions.
Croatia Ventilated smoking rooms permitted. N/A
Czech Republic Restaurant and bar owners are able to choose whether to designate their premises as smoking or non-smoking. Employees are not permitted to smoke if non-smokers are present.
Denmark Smoking rooms are permitted in restaurants and bars larger than 40m². Smoking is permitted in some bars with a serving area smaller than 40m² if they have chairs and tables. Single employee offices are exempt. Separate smoking rooms are allowed in hospitality facilities as long as no food or drink is served there. Train stations were added in July 2014
Estonia Isolated smoking rooms permitted. Ventilated smoking rooms permitted.
Finland Ventilated smoking rooms with no service permitted. Designated smoking rooms permitted.
France Ventilated smoking rooms permitted. Ventilated smoking rooms permitted.
Greece Smoking is permitted in bars classed as entertainment centres (live music / casino) that are larger than 300m². N/A
Ireland The ban covers public buildings, hospitals, public pharmacies, schools, banking halls, cinemas, public hairdressing premises, restaurant kitchens, part of all restaurants, on buses, and some trains. N/A
Italy Ventilated smoking rooms permitted. Ventilated smoking rooms permitted.
Latvia N/A Smoking rooms permitted
Lithuania N/A Ventilated smoking rooms permitted.
Luxembourg Ventilated smoking rooms with no service permitted. Ventilated smoking rooms permitted.
Netherlands Separate smoking rooms with no service permitted. Smoking rooms permitted.
Poland Enclosed smoking areas are permitted in some larger restaurants, provided they are physically separated and properly ventilated Ventilated smoking rooms permitted.
Portugal Ventilated smoking areas permitted. N/A
Republic of Cyprus N/A Ventilated smoking rooms permitted.
Romania Ventilated smoking rooms permitted. Smoking allowed in venues smaller than 100m². Ventilated smoking rooms permitted.
Slovenia Smoking rooms without food permitted. Smoking rooms must be no bigger than 20% of the entire property and cannot be a hallway. Smoking rooms permitted. Smoking rooms must be no bigger than 20% of the entire property and cannot be a hallway.
Spain Smoking is permitted in private smoking clubs provided that they are tightly regulated. N/A
Sweden Smoking rooms permitted. Employers must ensure all non-smoking employees are not exposed to tobacco. 

*Germany is not featured in the restaurant and public place timelines because the smoking ban differs between the 16 federal states.

Special mention should be given to both Ireland and Finland who implemented smoking bans significantly earlier than the rest of Europe.

  • Ireland took the pioneering step to ban smoking in restaurant kitchens and on buses back in 1988 and eventually moved to an outright ban in all public spaces in 2004, paving the way for the rest of Europe.

  • Finland has one of the lowest tobacco use rates in Europe, which could be attributed to it’s early and hard stance on smoking in public spaces.

As demonstrated by the diagram, there was an influx of countries taking the positive steps to banning smoking around 2007.

Although all European countries now have some form of smoking ban in place they differ quite greatly in circumstances.

  • Some countries allow smoking in specially designated indoor areas (such as the Netherlands, Sweden, Slovenia);

  • in other countries, smoking rooms are permitted but have to be ventilated and pass air quality regulations (such as in France, Italy, Portugal);

  • whereas other countries base their laws around banning smoking in the presence of non-smokers (such as the Czech Republic and Slovakia).

What have the smoking bans achieved?

The number of people smoking in Europe is the lowest it has ever been and is continuing to decrease.

A 2012 survey by the European Commission showed that smoking prevalence was lowest in the populations of Sweden at 13 percent, followed by Portugal and Slovakia both at 23 percent. Topping the survey was Greece at 40 percent closely followed by Bulgaria and Latvia both at 36 percent.

A combination of the following anti-smoking approaches have all contributed to the gradual decline in the numbers of smokers across Europe:

  • Stricter rules behind the packaging and labelling of tobacco products

  • Tobacco advertising restrictions

  • Hard hitting mass media campaigns against smoking

  • Smoke-free environments

  • Tax and targeted campaigns against illicit tobacco trade

Well implemented bans on tobacco advertising and sponsorship have been found to significantly reduce the number of people starting or continuing to smoke.

Extensive smoke free legislation has been found to also greatly reduce the numbers of people being exposed to secondhand smoke.

Some experts have identified a correlation in the UK between the introduction of smoking bans and a reduction in the number of heart attacks.

What will governments do next?

Reducing the prevalence of tobacco-related illness continues to feature prominently on the agenda of most (if not all) EU member states.

Public support for far reaching control over tobacco use is on the increase as is general awareness about the negative effects of first- as well as second-hand smoke.

Whilst all European countries enforce some form of smoking ban, in reality, compliance tends to vary wildly. Legislative restructuring and stricter imposition of the law might be required for the bans to have a more significant impact in some countries. 

The UK now leads the way when it comes to tobacco control with laws that cover public spaces, workplaces and vehicles. Hopefully in the years to come, more European countries will follow the UK’s lead on a ban on smoking in cars.

Finland in particular wants to take its smoking ban one step further and has introduced an action plan which aims to reduce the numbers of people smoking to less than 2 percent by 2040.

If you’re looking to take steps towards your own personal smoke-free future then you can get more information about quitting smoking for good on our stop smoking page.