Norway to ban smoking in all indoor public places
Draft law follows new European Union restrictions on tobacco advertising
By Thomas Land
OSLO, NORWAY – A passionately debated draft law proposing to impose a total ban on smoking in all indoor public places in Norway is set to be passed by Parliament early this year and come into force in January 2004.
A newly agreed ban on tobacco advertising in newspapers and magazines, on the Internet and at international sporting events will come into effect on or shortly after 2005 throughout the European Union (EU).
Norway's proposed legislation is based on experience gained in several major administrative districts in Canada, the United States and Australia, where similar restrictions have been in force for some time. If passed, the new law will make Norway the first country to impose such a ban nationwide. The Ministry of Health here blames up to 500 premature deaths a year on passive smoking in this country alone.
Smoking is already banned in Norway in all public buildings and offices. The new reforms will most notably affect bars and restaurants. They already maintain areas designated for smokers, but in the future smoking would be tolerated only in their open-air terraces and serving areas.
The proposed law has been drafted under heavy pressure from the Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union, which regards the smoke of patrons as a serious occupational health hazard.
Almost one-third of Norwegian adults smoke daily and many more irregularly. In the future, they would be allowed to smoke only at home and out of doors (where temperatures frequently drop below freezing for more than half the year).
The law will prescribe a heavy initial fine for offenders. Smokers are already penalized by high taxation, with a pack of 20 cigarettes costing about 62 kroner (more than $9 Cdn).
The government here has decided to go ahead with the proposed legislation just as health ministers of the 15 EU member states voted to impose the advertising ban, which had been endorsed already by European Parliament.
Dagfinn Hoybraten, the minister of health in Norway's centre-right administration, said he believes the reforms will lead to "substantially improved public health standards well worth the sacrifice of widening restrictions imposed on smokers.
"We can afford to have no exceptions," he said. "More people die of passive smoking in this country than in road accidents. Our waiters and bartenders have a higher incidence of lung cancer than workers do in any other occupational group."
The minister cited the findings of a recent study conducted in California, where a similar smoking ban is already in force, registering marked improvements in the health standards of bar and restaurant workers in just four weeks after the introduction of a smoke-free regime.
But Knut Almquist, managing director of the Norwegian Hospitality Association representing the restaurant trade, deplores what he describes as "the government's apparent decision to ignore the needs" of his industry.
However, several European medical and health associations have welcomed the reforms.
In an important new study, the World Bank concluded that "fears frequently expressed by the hospitality industry that smoking bans may damage business interests have proved largely unfounded. Studies of hotels, bars and restaurants conducted in Canada, Australia and several U.S. states all show that smoking bans do not result in a decline in business."
The bank said passive smoking kills an estimated 35,000 to 65,000 adult non-smokers a year in the U.S. alone from heart disease and 3,000 from lung cancer. Within the EU, an estimated 500,000 smokers die annually from diseases associated with tobacco addiction. A 1995 study issued by the Conference Board of Canada estimated the annual cost to employers of having a smoker on their staff at $3,022.
The European reforms are a direct response to a recent call made by the World Health Organization in Geneva for a wide range of administrative measures, including bans on public smoking as well as cigarette advertising, to confront a widening epidemic of tobacco-related deaths.
Only two EU member countries have voted against the tobacco advertising ban agreed by the EU executive commission. One was Britain, which thought that the proposals were not tough enough. The other was Germany, as it sought to protect its ailing domestic media market, which is unhealthily dependent on tobacco advertising revenues.
The EU health ministers' decision does not ban tobacco sponsorship of major sporting events such as Formula One racing— but the organizers of Formula One have already agreed to phase out tobacco advertising voluntarily.
There will also remain certain other exceptions to the rule, such as the display of cigarette logos on clothing.
Nevertheless, EU Health Commissioner David Byrne declared after the decision: "The ministers today hit the tobacco industry where it hurts."
Source: The Medical Post, Volume 39, #2, January 14, 2003.