Smoking regulations: European doctors urge policy makers to act - 12/3/2005

link to The Times article

Smoking regulations
European doctors urge policy makers to act
Cynthia Busuttil

Unless radical action is taken, it is estimated that the "tobacco epidemic" will kill 10 million people worldwide every year by 2030.

Thousands of Maltese families are enjoying smoke-free public places for the first time thanks to new smoking regulations, doctors from all over Europe will be told at an Oslo meeting today.

In a report due to be launched at a meeting of the European Forum of Medical Associations, the general secretary of the Medical Association of Malta, Martin Balzan, says Maltese bars and restaurant owners have chosen completely smoke-free premises rather than costly smoking rooms.

Quoting from a survey carried out for The Sunday Times, he says eight out of 10 Maltese people back the smoking regulations introduced last year.

"We support the government's efforts to enforce it (the law) for the benefit of everyone," he says in the report.

The report - Smoke-Free Europe, Reviewing Progress, Prescribing Action - was prepared by the UK's Tobacco Control Resource Centre.

Malta is listed together with Ireland, Italy, Norway and Sweden as one of the countries that have smoke-free enclosed public places and workplaces, with very limited exemptions.

The document focuses on the harm done by second-hand tobacco smoke. Tobacco Action Group chairman Tomaz Caks said second-hand tobacco smoke kills tens of thousands of European citizens every year.

"Robust scientific evidence shows us that there is no safe level of exposure. Expensive ventilation systems cannot protect people from the health risks of second-hand smoke and non-smoking areas offer partial or no protection. Only smoke-free laws can save lives," he said.

When contacted, Dr Balzan said the association was proud of Malta's avant garde law, which had been applauded by other European countries. He said the law was one of the most citizen-friendly but he also stressed the need of making sure it was being enforced.

The document quotes doctors from various European countries - Ireland, Norway, Italy, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Estonia and Finland apart from Malta - speaking about the smoking regulations in their respective countries.

"Their experiences show that clean air legislation improves health, people obey the law and businesses continue to thrive. We urge policy makers to listen to the voice of doctors rather than paid propagandists for the tobacco industry," Dr Caks said. He said the message from the European medical profession was clear and stressed that smoke-free policies worked.

"We congratulate those countries that have already made progress. And we look forward to celebrating as more European countries prescribe action and become smoke-free," he said.

Markos Kyprianou, the European commissioner responsible for health, said doctors were well placed to know the damaging health effects of smoking because they treat them every day in clinics and hospitals.

"This manifesto gives policy makers very clear advice: banning smoking in public places can save lives. Smoke-free public places do more than just protect non-smokers from the dangers of second-hand smoke. They also help smokers to kick the habit and dissuade young people from starting to smoke," he said.

Tobacco-free Europe regional adviser Haik Nikogosian said that unless "radical action" was taken, the "tobacco epidemic" would kill 10 million people worldwide every year by 2030.

Smoking regulations came into force in Malta's public places last April. Entertainment establishments measuring over 60 square metres had to start complying in October while smaller establishments have until next month to come in line. The regulations lay down that establishments have to be non-smoking but can have a smoking room that has to comply with certain technical specifications.

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