Following the publication of the 2007 Green Paper ‘Towards a Europe free from tobacco smoke’, the EU Commission is considering a possible European-level initiative on the protection of workers’ health from environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) at the workplace.
Where non-smokers share a workplace with someone who is smoking, they are exposed to Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS, also called secondhand or passive smoking), which is composed of exhaled mainstream smoke and sidestream smoke and is generated by the combustion of tobacco products. It is a complex mixture of 4000 compounds, including carcinogens.
Exposure to ETS has been identified as a cause of lung cancer, cardiovascular disease and a range of other health problems, including exacerbation of asthma and even acute myocardial ischaemia among non-smokers. It has recently been estimated that approximately 7.5 million workers in the EU are exposed to ETS at work. In the recent Eurobarometer survey on the attitudes of Europeans towards tobacco, one in three respondents working in indoor workplaces or offices declared they were exposed to tobacco smoke at work.
Although the number of deaths caused by chronic exposure to ETS is substantially lower than mortality caused by active smoking, this phenomenon engenders serious health concerns, as scientific evidence allows exposure to ETS to be identified not only as a direct cause of death but more generally as a factor in reduced life expectancy among those in good health. What is more troubling is that ETS-related deaths tend to occurr among individuals who have decided not to smoke and whose increased risk of disease and death is therefore involuntary. There is evidence
that exposure to ETS at work accounted for over 7 000 deaths in the EU in 2002, while exposure at home was responsible for a further 72 000 deaths. These estimates include deaths from heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and some respiratory diseases caused by exposure to ETS.
At international level, the WHO Framework Convention of Tobacco Control
(WHO FCTC), signed by 168 and ratified by 141 Parties, including the Community, “recognizes that scientific evidence has unequivocally established that exposure to tobacco smoke causes death, disease and disability”. The Convention obliges the Community and its Member States to tackle exposure to tobacco smoke in indoor workplaces, public transport and indoor public places. The second session of the Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention in July 2007 adopted guidelines on smoke-free environments with an obligation involving universal protection, which every Party should strive to provide within five years of the Convention’s entry into force for that Party is considering to propose a comprehensive legislative initiative specifically targeting the prevention of workers’ exposure to ETS at the workplace.
As a result smoke-free laws have recently been adopted in a number of Member States. Yet the measures taken are diverse in nature and often include exemptions for particular workplaces. As a consequence, the protection of workers’ health from risks related to ETS is neither complete nor uniform across all employment sectors and Member States.
Even though a number of existing EU occupational health and safety Directives address this issue (Health and Safety Framework Directive ; Workplace Directive ; Mineral and Extractive Industries drilling Directive ; Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive, Pregnant and Breastfeeding Workers Directive, etc), most of them tackle the matter only indirectly while others do not provide a comprehensive level of protection. It is against this backdrop that the EU Commission published in 2007 a Green Paper Towards a Europe free from tobacco smoke: Policy options at EU level
to launch a broad public consultation on the best way to promote smoke-free environments in the EU.
This consultation revealed significant support for comprehensive smoke-free policies and for further EU action to promote smoke-free environments.
GHK Consulting Ltd has been retained by the European Commission (DG for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion) to undertake an impact assessment of a possible European-level initiative on the protection of workers’ health from ETS at the workplace.
The study began in January 2011 and will end in July 2011.
The final report will inform the production of an analytical document, which will then be used by the Commission in its engagement with social partners
. The analytical document will consider the likely impacts, including costs and benefits of four main policy options.
1) No further action at European level in the field of worker protection from ETS (a reference scenario against which other options will be assessed).
2) Non-binding guidance at European level.
3) Binding legislative action at European level. There are sub-options within this :
a) Total ban on smoking in all indoor workplaces
b) A smoking area exemption
c) A residential premises exemption
d) Information and training
4) Binding legislative action, combined with non-binding options.
By Alberto Alemanno