Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Just a thought: what exactly is the European-added value in the Commission pushing for smoking bans?

The Commission is calling on member-states to all implement smoking bans in public places. The rationale for this action is to have healthier Europeans. Alright, I get it. Smoking is bad for you, we should all quit. However I can’t help but think: what does the EU has to do with this? What is the added-value to push this agenda forward to a European level? Honestly I really don’t see to what extent that issue is a European one. If citizens smoke and get sick from it, then it is a public health issue that concerns the social security systems, which are purely national. So, again why is the EU bothering? I understand that in the field of health, there is a need for European action to prevent the spread of viruses and epidemic diseases as they can easily cross borders. That is why this kind of policy makes sense at an EU level. But cigarette smoke doesn’t cross border, does it? Anyone has a clue why the Commission is pushing that idea forward? I am happy to debate about it and change my mind. For the moment, I think the smoking ban campaign is a good example of these policies that make little sense at a European level, and only have the negative effect of building on the image that “Brussels” is a dark force that imposes constraints on member states against their will. The EU has better things to do, don’t you think?

Photo credits: Mandolux on Flickr


  1. Vanessa WitkowskiJuly 1, 2009 at 2:42 PM

    I welcome ANY ban against smoking in public places from ANY authority. If Member States are not smart or bold enough to implement it themselves, than I am very happy that it becomes an EU initiative. As far as I am concerned: points for the Commission!

  2. I think historically it originates from the regulations on "health and safety at work", which for the sake of the common labour market were Europeanized. And that somehow "spilled over" and the whole smoking issue was fought in Brussels. And maybe some national governments were also afraid of politicizing the issue and were happy for the Commission to take the initiative.

    On a more normative level, I think it depends on how you frame it. If you frame it in terms of public health and talk about health insurance costs and so on, I agree, it makes more sense to deal with it at the same level as social security, thus national.

    However, if you frame it in terms of workers' rights and more generally human rights (because smoking in public spaces harms also non-smokers), then these issues are not national at all. The EU is also legislating on other human rights issues, such as non-discrimination (not only in the labour market). So this recommendation is mainly about protecting people from other people's smoke.
    And part of it is also framed in terms of consumer protection (like the warning signs).

  3. @ Vanessa, point taken :)
    I am not criticising the smoking bans as such.
    It's just that I thought the EU was supposed to act where it made sense for it to act, i.e. where an issue is transnational and better dealt with at EU level than at national level. I don't think it's the EU's place to intervene on this matter.

  4. @ Philip, many thanks for the historical perspective! I think the worker's rights/human rights argument is a very sensible one I can only agree on. However my feeling is that the European Commission is not using that frame to push the smoking bans forward, but rather the public health frame. So would it be -again- just a communication problem?

  5. The article was posted on Facebook as well and attracted interesting comments. See below:

    Anonymous 1:
    "Hm, if we follow the logic, than any medical procedure or reulation must be solely in Member States' competence :)
    It's not a secret that smoking is damaging health of a smoker and those who are 'passive smokers' by just enhaling the smoking air. The main idea is that the non-smokers right for the clean air is higher than smokers right for having pleasure.
    Certain MS cannot introduce decent measures in this regard (due to the strong lobbying of interest groups etc) and according to the Treaies, when a problem cannot be solved on a national level and concerns sevelar member states, it requires action at the European level... so here is the action."

    Anonymous 2:
    "As usual the EU is putting itself up to be shot doiung far too little too late. Ireland introduced a ban back in 2003 followed by the United Kingdom where the legal age to buy tobacco was raised to 18. I was not infavour of this but the benefits are clear even to me. Statistics etc have been available to the Commission for years they have not acted highlighting their own deficiencies."

  6. I personally don't think the EU should have much input in the area of health - expect maybe for when it has a cross border character.

    The recommendation might have a political effect in encouraging member states to legislate for bans, but the EU doesn't have the competence to ban smoking in public places itself.

    Unfortunately, this will probably give the impression that the Commission is powerful and interfering without having any real effect...

  7. check out Eurocentric's article on the issue:

    good points made there!

  8. Gulf Stream Blues gives a unique globe-trotter testimony of how and where smoking bans have been implemented: