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Tobacco-control legislation: already saving lives


01 Jun 2011


Health & Consumers

The evidence shows that tobacco legislation is working. Confounding its early critics, it is already saving lives and improving health across the WHO European Region. Studies from countries that enforce bans on smoking in public places are finding reductions in heart attacks. Exposure to tobacco smoke contributes to cardiovascular diseases, cancer and tuberculosis, and the scientific literature indicates that, just a few months after the implementation of smoke-free laws, the hospitalization rates for myocardial infarctions decrease by 20–40%.



“This is legislation that is really working,” said Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe. “It is working for the public and for the health system. Where the laws are enforced, we are seeing not only better health for people but also rapid and significant reductions in hospital admissions, which must mean lower costs for health systems.”



The momentum has been growing across the WHO European Region, with countries strengthening their smoke-free policies and further protecting their citizens from the harm done by tobacco. Tobacco is the single most preventable cause of death in the world and there is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke. This year, tobacco will kill nearly 6 million people globally: more than tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malaria combined. Legislation is proving to be an effective way to regulate and control exposure to tobacco, and to reduce the number of people who smoke. Smoke-free policies in workplaces in several industrialized countries have reduced total tobacco consumption among workers by an average of 29%.



Early critics worried about the public’s acceptance of smoking bans and about the effect on business, particularly the hospitality sector. An international review of evidence covering over 100 studies, however, found either a neutral or positive economic impact after implementation of smoke-free legislation. For example, 40% of businesses in the United Kingdom reported a positive impact and 57%, a neutral impact. Polls have shown that smoke-free legislation is welcomed and popular in the countries that have adopted it.



The key message of World No Tobacco Day, 31 May 2011, is the need for countries to ratify and fully implement the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) to protect present and future generations from the devastating health, social, environmental and economic consequences of tobacco smoke. In the WHO European Region, 46 countries and the European Community have ratified the treaty.



“The WHO FCTC is very good news for the health of the people of the WHO European Region,” said Zsuzsanna Jakab. “Governments now have a strong instrument on their side, which needs to be used comprehensively and enforced strongly.”



The WHO Director-General has given the Special Recognition Award for World No Tobacco Day, which recognizes individuals or organizations for their accomplishments in tobacco control, to the Prime Minister of Greece, Mr George Papandreou, for his strong leadership and firm stance in defending strong anti-tobacco legislation, not giving in to pressure from the tobacco industry and other interests motivated by profit. Greece has passed legislation that aims to fully protect its country’s citizens from the harmful effects of tobacco smoke in public places, and requires commitment and political courage.



Fact sheet                                                                   

The web site of the WHO Regional Office for Europe includes a fact sheet ( giving current data and background information on anti-tobacco legislation in Europe.




For further technical information, please contact:

Rula Khoury

Surveillance Officer, Tobacco Control,
WHO Regional Office for Europe

Tel.: +45 39 17 15 71; +45 24 21 58 48 (mobile)







For further information and interview requests, please contact:

Viv Taylor Gee

Communications Adviser

WHO Regional Office for Europe

Tel.: +45 39 17 12 31; +45 22 72 36 91 (mobile)





Tina Kiær
Communications Officer, Noncommunicable Diseases and Health Promotion

WHO Regional Office for Europe

Tel.: + 45 39 17 12 50; +45 24 91 08 44 (mobile)






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