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Europe

Banning Smoke at Work in Europe

The European Commission's "Week Against Cancer" begins Monday, the motto is "finally a smoke-free workplace." While the latter is already a reality in some EU countries, many Europeans still work in smoky environs.

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Not the best working environment

In Italy, a smoking ban has been in place since the beginning of the year, but not everyone's pleased about it.

"It's unfair," one Italian woman told Deutsche Welle. "People constantly talk about protecting non-smokers, but what about the smokers? Who sells the cigarettes to us? First the state let's us get addicted and then it takes our habit away from us."

But a majority of Italians is actually more supportive of the law.

Frau mit Eis und Zigarette in Italien

Italians have taken to smoking outside.

"I defend non-smokers," said one man. "Passive smoking harms them and they are forced to deal with it."

Health experts naturally back such views as they say that passive smoke, such as the one produced by a work colleague in the same room, is harmful.

"Smokers breathe in about a quarter of a cigarette's smoke themselves while three quarters go to waste," said Volker Beck of Germany's Cancer Society, adding that the smoke lingers in rooms for hours afterwards. "You can't get rid of this highly toxic smoke. The consequences are cancers, cardio-vascular diseases and respiratory diseases."

Ways for protectio n

Since ventilation systems cannot completely filter out smoke, other solutions have to be found to protect non-smokers. But EU countries have not agreed on a common way to do this so far.

"You have to distinguish between protecting non-smokers and outright smoking bans," said Michael Forrest of the European Network for Tobacco Prevention, a non-governmental organization that has compared national regulations.

Rauchen in Irland Zigaretten

Smoking in Irish pubs is history.

He added that only four EU countries -- Ireland, Italy, Malta and Sweden -- as well as European Free Trade Association member Norway have implemented smoking bans in the workplace.

The ban is more or less enforced in these countries -- partly because of high penalties of up to 275 euros ($333) per violation, Forrest said.

Other countries are now also considering bans: Starting in 2006, Belgians and Spaniards will have to restrict their smoking in public and Britain seems also set to follow suit.

Germa n y still lax

In Germany, smoking bans do not yet exist in the work place.

"A 2002 regulation requires employers to take necessary steps to protect non-smoking employees at their work-place," said Peter Niepalla, Deutsche Welle's legal counsel.

DB Nichtraucherbahnhof in Düsseldorf

Smoking in German train stations has been restricted.

He added that setting up smokers' bureaus, central smokers' "islands" or more breaks for smokers are some of the possibilities. While employers still have more lee-way than in Ireland or Italy, the air is getting thin for German smokers as well.

EU Public Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou would like to see all EU states follow the lead of those that have already banned smoking, but he's got little power to do something about it as national government can still largely decide on their own.

And the Italian government doesn't seem to be interested in adhering to its own laws: While citizens obey the ban, clouds of smoke can be found in one public building, according to Italian newspaper La Republicca: The Palazzo Chigi, Italy's seat of government.

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