Regulation of Public Place Smoking

Public health authorities have concluded that exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (also called second-hand smoke) causes serious diseases in non-smokers, and as a result, governments have prohibited smoking in public places.  Regulations that restrict or ban smoking in some or most public places are commonplace in many countries today such as government office buildings, shopping centers, movie theaters, public transportation, the workplace, and, in some countries, the hospitality sector (restaurants, bars and nightclubs). 

In the EU, all countries have regulations in place that restrict or ban smoking in public and/or work places, restaurants, bars and nightclubs. Some EU Member States allow narrow exemptions from smoking bans, for instance for separate smoking rooms in the hospitality sector, but others have banned virtually all indoor public smoking. In other regions, many countries have adopted, or are likely to adopt, regulations introducing substantial public smoking restrictions similar to those in the EU. For example, Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Thailand, Turkey and Ukraine have adopted restrictions similar to those of EU Member States. 

Some public health groups have called for, and some municipalities have adopted or proposed, bans on smoking in outdoor places. Some tobacco control groups have advocated banning smoking in cars when minors are present. 

Our View

We believe that the conclusions of public health officials on the health effects of second-hand smoke warrant restrictions on public place smoking, including bans in many locations. A balance should be struck, however, between the desire to protect non-smokers, especially minors, from exposure to second-hand smoke, and allowing the millions of adults who smoke to do so in some public places.

Clearly, smoking should be prohibited in hospitals and health institutions, as well as in schools and other facilities for youth. In addition, smoking should be prohibited in public places where people must go, such as public transportation vehicles and businesses offering general public services (e.g. supermarkets, banks and post offices). In such places, signs should be posted clearly stating that smoking is not permitted.  

In restaurants, bars, cafes and other entertainment establishments, proprietors should be free to decide whether to permit, restrict or prohibit smoking. If signage is posted communicating the smoking policy, and includes the public health view that exposure to smoke is harmful to non-smokers, then an individual can make an informed decision about whether or not to enter an establishment.

We do not believe that banning smoking in outdoor public places or in private places such as cars and homes is the right approach. We believe smoking should be allowed in outdoor public spaces, except areas intended primarily for children or where smoking could be dangerous. For private places, we believe that education, rather than legislation, is a more appropriate way forward.

As governments continue to consider regulation of public place smoking, rules should take into account the fact that tobacco products are being developed that produce minimal or no second-hand smoke. A blanket prohibition on the use of tobacco products, even when no second-hand smoke is emitted by such products, is not consistent with the intent of public smoking restriction legislation and regulation, or the principle of harm reduction.

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