How can we best protect non-smokers from exposure to tobacco smoke?

WHO/Frederiek Mantingh

There is no safe level of exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke, and comprehensive smoke-free laws are the only effective means of eliminating the risks associated with smoking. Smoke-free legislation works, but, to correctly portray its impact, indicators should not be measured prematurely. The WHO/Europe evidence brief, 'How can we best protect non-smokers from exposure to tobacco smoke?' evaluates the impact of smoke-free policies in the nine European Member States that have introduced comprehensive, smoke-free legislation. 

Strong public support for comprehensive smoke-free policies

Evidence shows that the general public strongly supports comprehensive smoke-free policies and that strong public support leads to high-level enforcement and compliance. 

In summary, comprehensive smoke-free policies:

  • protect employees by reducing exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke in workplaces and public places;
  • can reduce mortality and morbidity from exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke within a few months of implementation;
  • can cause a shift in beliefs and personal choices relating to rules about smoking in private places;
  • can lower the prevalence of smoking and smoking-related behaviour;
  • result in considerable savings for the health system;
  • do not result in economic loss, as revenues from tobacco taxes can be maintained or even increased; and
  • do not deter tourism.

Introducing comprehensive smoke-free policies is a step towards the vision of a tobacco-free European Region set down in the Ashgabat Declaration. Protection from exposure to tobacco smoke is also a key obligation under Article 8 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and its guidelines. More needs to be done across the Region to fully comply with this article.