Tobacco consumption is the single largest avoidable health risk, and the most significant cause of premature death in the EU, responsible for nearly 700,000 deaths every year. Around 50% of smokers die prematurely (on average 14 years earlier).
Despite considerable progress made in recent years, the number of smokers in the EU is still high – 26% of the overall population and 29% of young Europeans aged 15-24 smoke.
To address this situation, the European Union and national governments have taken various tobacco control measures in the form of legislation, recommendations and, previously, information campaigns.
These policy measures include:
- The regulation of tobacco products (e.g. packaging, labelling, ingredients)
- Advertising restrictions for tobacco products
- The creation of smoke-free environments
- Tax measures and activities against illicit trade
These protect citizens from the hazardous effects of smoking and other forms of tobacco consumption, including against second-hand smoke. Crucially, they aim to help smokers to quit or not to start in the first place. Particular attention is paid to youth smoking given that 93% of smokers take up smoking before they turn 26.
Taking into account the significant cross border trade of tobacco products and the risk of diverging national legislation, EU-wide rules are necessary for these products. These rules protect consumers across the EU. The Tobacco Products Directive has governed the manufacture, display and sale of tobacco and related products since May 2016.
Tobacco advertising and sponsorship
Tobacco advertising increases consumption in several ways, most importantly by encouraging children or young adults to start smoking. Tobacco advertising and sponsorship is restricted in the EU by the:
- Tobacco Advertising Directive (2003/33/EC)
- Audio-visual Media Services Directive (2010/13/EU)
- Council Recommendation (2003/54/EC) on the prevention of smoking and on initiatives to improve tobacco control
While the Tobacco Advertising Directive imposes an EU-wide ban on cross-border tobacco advertising and sponsorship in all media, other than television, the Audio-visual Media Services Directive and Council Recommendation extend this to television, and all other forms of tobacco promotion.
Smoke free environments
The Council Recommendation on smoke-free environments strengthened smoke-free legislation within public spaces, as well as EU cooperation on tobacco control. Currently, 17 EU countries have comprehensive smoke-free legislation in place. National measures tend to differ in extent and scope, with enforcement remaining an issue in some EU countries. Among these, Ireland, the UK, Greece, Bulgaria, Malta, Spain and Hungary have the strictest provisions with a complete ban on smoking in enclosed public places, on public transport and in workplaces.
- Detailed overview of the legislation in the EU
- Table of smoke-free legislation and its implementation in the EU
- 2013 implementation report
The Commission previously worked in the area of smoking cessation. Three EU-wide campaigns addressed the burden of tobacco-consumption across Europe, but the focus since 2016 has been on national initiatives.
- Ex-Smokers are Unstoppable (2014-2016)
- Ex-Smokers are Unstoppable (2011-2013)
- HELP – For a life without tobacco (2005 to 2010).
Other EU activities
- Directive 2010/12/EU on excise duty on tobacco introduced high taxes on tobacco products, which are extremely effective in reducing tobacco use, notably among young people.
- The European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) investigates illegal tobacco trading in line with the international protocol on illicit trade in tobacco products.
The EU is also working with its international partners to reduce global tobacco consumption. EU countries, together with the European Commission, are active partners in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), a legally binding international treaty that aims to reduce the health and economic impact of tobacco consumption. Conferences of the Parties of the Convention are held every second year where they take decisions, adopt protocols, and issue guidelines.