Living with a Soundless Killer: Passive Smoking still exists in Denmark and Europe

Signing a tobacco-banning treaty called FCTC in 2005, European Union has regulated second-hand smoking at public places by making the related laws. Denmark also has joined to tobacco-banning stream from 2007, however, there are still many people are exposed to second-hand smoke.

by Hyun Joon Lee

[Interview on perception about second-hand smoke in Aarhus]

“I always get really annoyed when some people smoke in a restaurant”

Although many people have complained about passive smoking for a long time, there is mere action from European Commission and European Parliament. The latest European commission’s report on passive smoking was created 5 years ago.

Many European countries’ governments are regulating indoor smoking by their law, but many non-smokers are still exposed to indoor second-hand smoking. According to European Commission’s report, 34 percent of Danish people experienced passive smoking in a bar and 10% of them exposed in a restaurant in 2012.

It seems that practical action is needed to protect both the rights of non-smokers and of smokers.

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The Republic of Smoking is falling

Compared to the past days, the right to smoke is strictly regulated by laws now. As a result, the number of smoking areas is decreasing. In the past, passive smoking also known as Environmental Tobacco Smoking (ETS) was not regarded as a serious problem among people. Smokers were allowed to smoke everywhere even if they are in a workplace classroom, restaurant, or train cabin. Back then, ‘freedom of smoking’ is well protected as their ‘sacred right’.

Nowadays, however, it is really hard for Europeans to find smokers in classroom and train cabin. This change was driven as several research findings that explain the harmfulness and seriousness of second-hand smoke have been reported from 1978. World Health Organization (WHO) and its member states have tried to regulate smoking behaviors in order to guarantee non-smoker’s right.

©European Commission

The first broad initiative to ban smoke from public places was Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). The FCTC is an international treaty adopted to ban the harmfulness of smoke by regulating and controlling tobacco. It was adopted at the World Health Assembly in 2003 and has been signed by 168 member states. The ratified treaty mainly focuses on reducing the demand for tobacco, making obligations to ban passive smoking, regulating labeling and packaging and so on.

According to a report named Council Recommendation on Smoke-free Environments, 14 out of 33 European countries totally banned indoor smoking at a restaurant and 12 out of 33 of them banned indoor smoking in a bar. However, Denmark is sticking to a partial ban on indoor smoking until now. It is not hard to find a bar that allows smoking inside in Denmark.

How second-hand smoke harasses non-smokers

Many scientific kinds of research have reported on the harmfulness of passive smoke.
According to WHO, Second-hand smoke causes and aggravates asthma and other breathing problems, particularly in children. It is also an important cause of sudden infant death syndrome. Moreover, the chemicals in second-hand smoke poison the heart muscle interfere with the ability of blood vessels to adjust themselves to control blood pressure and flow, increase the buildup of blockages of blood vessels. In the end, it causes a heart attack.

While the tobacco industry has continuously claimed that evidence that second-hand smoke causes lung cancer is controversial, authoritative scientific research has concluded that passive smoking causes many diseases. What is worse is smokers inhale filtered smoke from their cigarette, however, passive smokers are exposed to unfiltered smoke.

Dr. Filippos Filippidis, lead author from Imperial’s School of Public Health argued that how many European people suffering from passive smoking.

In 2014, one in four European replied that they had been exposed to second-hand smoke when they visited a bar. For restaurants, it was one in nine. Both passive smokings from a bar and restaurant decreased compared to 2009. However, of those people who work indoors, 27.5 percent said they had been exposed to second-hand smoke in the workplace. This has risen from 23.8 percent in 2009.

“Our results suggest there is still a lot more work to be done to protect people in some parts of Europe.” He claimed.

Public place or not

It seems that the definition of public space is different among European countries. Some countries like Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, and Sweden are partially banning smoking from certain outdoor areas such as institutions for children or adolescence. On the other hand, there is no regulation about outdoor smoking in countries like Cyprus, Netherlands, and the UK.

According to European Commission’s report on smoke-free legislation, 20 countries are regulating outdoor smoke by law. Most regulations are defining outdoor public space as school area or institutions for children. The reason why they are especially careful about school area is to follow FCTC and to protect adolescences and children from passive smoking.

Not only European states are regulating passive smoking in public places. South Korea and Japan are most strictly banning smoke from every public place including park, square, street. After one child became blind in the street due to cigarette ash from a smoking pedestrian in Tokyo in 2001, most Japanese municipalities have banned smoking from the street. Seoul also has designated 19,201 outdoor smoke-free areas as more and more citizens complained about second-hand smoke. In 2011, there were only 670 outdoor smoke-free areas.

To protect the rights of smokers, South Korea and Japan have set smoking booths in public places since they have banned it. More and more public smoking booths are going to be set as many smokers require that.

Until now, there is no European country banning smoke from the street. Instead, there are some open smoking areas on street in front of public places such as train station and airport.

Is uprising E-cigarette free from the passive smoking issue?

Today, electronic cigarettes have been increasingly marketed in Europe. E-cigarette industry has promoted its products as relatively less harmful ones, however, it still remains controversial in European society.

Aleksander Lindberg, a manager of an e-cigarette store named Smoke-It in Aarhus, Denmark, claimed that e-cigarettes also have to be regulated by laws as conventional cigarettes.

“Electronic cigarettes should be regulated. We are very strictly surveilled by our government. Once a letter of toxic ingredients is missed, they will hammer down on us.” He said.

On the other side of the coin, he explained that e-cigarette is relatively weak health hazard product. At the same time, he admitted that smoke from e-cigarettes is harmful as well, however, he claimed it is far safer than normal cigarettes.

“There would be some (harmful substances) but far less than normal cigarettes. Of course, everything that generates smoke would put out some smoke in the area, but I think it is so minuscule compared to a normal cigarette.” he said.

Regardless of his claim, it seems many Europeans have negative attitudes towards smoke from the e-cigarette. According to the survey, a significant majority of respondents are in favor of prohibiting the use of e-cigarettes in places where smoking bans have been introduced. 63 percent of those polled said that such a ban should be brought in, while 26 percent of them are against such a ban.


Working in a smoking bar as a non-smoker

Ronja Victoria Boesdal has worked in a bar named Risras which allows smoking inside for around one year. She is the only staff who doesn’t smoke. Apparently, She has suffered from the second-hand smoke from her customers while she works for the bar 8 hours a day.

Ronja Victoria Boesdal

“Sometimes I get a headache if I’m there for a long time and my clothes become smell like smoke. That’s not good. she said.

In spite of those disadvantages from second-hand smoke, she wants to keep working in the bar because her father is the owner of the bar. She tried to find a new place to work but there is no workplace that pays and treats her well like her father’s bar.

Bar Risras

When it comes to banning indoor smoking stream, Ronja is taking a negative stance against it.

“Smoking bar is the concept of our business.  Most of our customers come to our bar because they can smoke inside. she said.