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Europe

Clouds of Smoke over Europe

From raising the price of cigarettes to installing bans in the workplace, many European countries have been looking for ways to get their citizens to quit smoking without infringing on their personal rights.

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Soon to be an image of Europe's past?

Although European Health Commissioner, David Byrne has been publicly mulling over the possibility of seeking an all-out EU ban on smoking in the workplace, so far there are no Europe-wide regulations on smoking or the price of tobacco -- which currently ranges from €2 ($2.50) to €7.20 for a packet of 20 cigarettes.

Earlier this month, France called on the European Commission to up the minimum EU excise duty on a packet of cigarettes, thus putting a stop to stobacco tourism. But EU Tax Commissioner Fritz Bolkenstein said the proposals would be unlikely to succeed as it was a fundamental EU freedom to carry legally purchased goods from one country to another without incurring additional taxation.

But just how cheap or easy is it for smokers to light up around the continent? And is there still such a thing as a smokerrs paradise?

Belgium: With the highest rate of lung cancer fatalities in Europe, Brussels has gradually been toughening up the nation's anti-smoking laws. Cigarette prices have risen by 70 cents in the past two years, putting the cost of a pack at €3.90. There are also plans to take the EU regulatory health warnings a step further by adding shocking photos to the packaging. Smoking on trains has been outlawed and Belgian workplaces are to be made completely smoke-free by 2006.

France: Tobacco prices have risen three times in the past 12 months and currently cost €5. France says that the increase has proved its effectiveness in the fight against nicotine addiction, but since the rise French tobacconists have bemoaned the loss of business, with smokers preferring to cross the border to Luxembourg, Belgium and Spain to buy cigarettes at a cheaper rate.

Greece: With some 44 percent of the Greeks over the age of 15 confirmed smokers, Greece is the smokiest country in the EU. Laws passed in 2002 outlawed smoking in many public areas and introduced designated areas in restaurants across the country. Billboard tobacco advertising will be banned for five months this year to coincide with the Olympics.

Holland: The notoriously liberal Netherlands became a bit more uptight, when a new law came into effect Jan. 1, 2004, banning smokers from puffing in railway stations, trains, toilets and offices. Bars and restaurants won a temporary reprieve on condition that they find a solution by 2005. One third of Holland's 16 million-strong population currently smokes, and the move is aimed at slashing that number back by five percent over the next five years.

Ireland: The Emerald Isle has been in the headlines over a planned smoking ban, originally due to come into effect at the start of the year. However, the ban, which is to be imposed in all work places including bars and restaurants, was postponed at least until February due to Dubliners concerns that it might not be watertight. The pending law has met with fierce opposition from the gastronomy industry, which fears a drop in takings if smokers are no longer allowed to feed their habits on the premises.

Spain: Although the number of smokers in Spain has fallen from 34.4 million to 31 million, it still has one of the highest smoker rates in Europe. It is something of a national sport, a fact which critics gladly blame on the low cost of cigarettes. At €2.65 a packet, the price is below the European average, but the government recently rejected calls to significantly up the price because of the inflationary affect this would have.

Sweden: Taking the lead from New York, which banned smoking in restaurants and bars earlier this year, Sweden has pledged to do the same by 2005. The current laws entitle all employees to a smoke-free working environment, except for restaurant workers. The government doesn't believe there will be a negative economic effect.

United Kingdom: While there is no law in Britain which forces publicans to section of a non-smoking area, restaurants often provide one anyway. Smokers in the UK will more likely be put off by the extortionate cost of their habit. At some €6.5, Brits pay well over the European average for their little pack of 20.

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