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WHO Celebrates An Increasingly Smoke-Free Europe

Armen Hareyan's picture

Second-hand tobacco smoke, also called environmental tobacco smoke, is dangerous to people's health.

Over 50 of the chemicals it contains are known to cause cancer in human beings. Hundreds of studies provide conclusive evidence that it causes other serious diseases, such as heart disease and asthma.

Globally, 700 million children, or almost half the world's children, breathe air polluted by tobacco smoke. Moreover, exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke causes 2.8% of all lung cancer. In the European Union in 2002, some 80 000 people are estimated to have died from conditions related to second-hand tobacco smoke.

"Over the last three years, our WHO European Region has experienced dramatic improvements in protecting its citizens from the dangers of second-hand tobacco smoke. Yet with 79% of 13-15-year-olds recently surveyed in 25 countries in the Region exposed to second-hand tobacco smoke at least once a week, more needs to be done to protect the vulnerable in our society," says Dr Marc Danzon, WHO Regional Director for Europe.

Ensuring that an environment is 100% smoke free is the only effective protection. Ventilation systems cannot remove all particulate matter or toxic gases, and many particles are inhaled or deposited on clothing, furniture, walls and ceilings before they can be removed.

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Regulations on smoking in public places are increasing throughout the WHO European Region: 70% of countries ban smoking in health care establishments and schools, and 60% ban smoking in government facilities, workplaces and cultural institutions. Recently the focus has been on the hospitality sector, beginning with the smoking ban in pubs, bars and restaurants introduced in Ireland in March 2004. Since 2002, 20 countries in the Region have strengthened their legislation on smoking in restaurants, pubs and bars, 7 through bans and several others by introducing restrictions.

Countries with extensive bans on smoking in public areas have seen very high levels of compliance, and popular support for the bans has tended to increase once they are in force. For example, a year after smoking was banned in bars and restaurants in Italy, 9 out of 10 people were in favour of the ban and 87% considered that it was well respected. Similar findings have been reported from Ireland, Norway and Sweden.

Public service announcements broadcast on television and in cinemas are a powerful way of ensuring that an important health message reaches the general public. The WHO Regional Office for Europe has compiled a unique showcase of some of the most recent announcements on tobacco control in the European Region.

In addition, the Regional Office released The European tobacco control report 2007 on the fifth anniversary of the Warsaw Declaration for a Tobacco-Free Europe; the report provides information on smoking-related issues throughout the European Region.

Every year, WHO rewards individuals and organizations for their remarkable commitment and contributions to work for a tobacco-free Europe. The winners of the World No Tobacco Day 2007 awards are: