EU public says enough is enough on tobacco control

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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People in a designated smoking area of an airport. [Ded Mityay/Shutterstock]

Recent polling evidence shows that public appetite for yet more measures to clamp down on smoking has been exhausted.

Guillaume Périgois is the Director of Forest EU, the Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco in the European Union.

Efforts to curb smoking, “denormalise” smokers by banning them from public and private places and forcing “plain packaging” on tobacco packets have gone too far, say EU voters.

According to a recent survey conducted by the polling company Populus, EU voters think that public policy on stamping out smoking is misdirected.

In particular, the European public believes that curbing tobacco consumption is the second least important issue for the European Commission’s DG SANTE to focus on (#9 out of 10 options). Its efforts would be better focused on tackling breast cancer (#1), food information, waste and fraud (#2), and addressing the problem of rare diseases (#3).

Reducing tobacco use not a priority

The poll’s other key finding is that there’s no popular appetite for stricter anti-tobacco rules. Indeed, 56% of Europeans think that anti-tobacco regulations have gone far enough.

No appetite for stricter anti-tobacco rules

Just 3% of the public think that the mandatory “plain packaging” of tobacco products is the most effective way to prevent children from smoking. To better achieve this goal, respondents would prefer policy to focus on existing measures such as education in schools and harsher penalties for shop keepers selling to underage people.

Plain packs not the way to curb youth smoking

In marked contrast with official attitudes, ordinary citizens are tolerant towards smokers in cafes and pubs. 68% of Europeans think that cafes and pubs should be allowed to provide well ventilated, separate smoking rooms.

Separate smoking rooms should be legal

The survey highlights significant levels of concern among EU voters about how the policy makers are being influenced in making decisions. 60% of respondents think that paying lobbyists with taxpayer money should be banned – a figure that rises to 74% in Germany. This calls into question the currently accepted practice whereby the Commission pays millions of euros to some campaigners whose job it is to lobby the Commission.

Most Europeans reject publicly-funded lobbying

We believe that the growing unpopularity of the anti-smoking measures pushed by tobacco control lobby groups and their funding by the European Commission are not unrelated.

The four primary tobacco control lobby groups represented in Brussels receive 58% of their income from the European Commission on average. On both sides of the institutions-lobby group divide, it seems a mutually beneficial network that pays itself with taxpayers’ money has been formed.

The reality is that the long-term trends are for more European to give up smoking as habits and fashions change. Everyone has long known the severe health risks associated with smoking, and the legal and technological opportunities offered by snus and vaping has hastened this general trend. What the increasingly repressive and unpleasant attempts by officialdom to ostracise smokers have done to add to this long term evolution is unclear.

It is now time for governments and the European Commission to focus on health questions that matter to the public, and to show a little more respect to our fellow citizens who choose to smoke.

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