The world is changing for the tobacco cigarette smoker. In most recent global developments, The United Kingdom's Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) welcomes the new UK Tobacco Plan, which boldly confronts issues regarding reduction in smoking amongst adults, children and pregnant women. To start, this means tobacco companies will be forced to switch to plain packaging in store fonts within the next two years.

The UK is in line to be the first European country to require standardised plain packaging of tobacco products, following the example set by its Commonwealth partner, Australia. Compared to current branding, plain packaging for tobacco products reduces false beliefs about the relative harm of tobacco products, is less attractive, especially to young people and improves the effectiveness of health warnings.

Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of ASH said in response to the six to eighteen month delay in enforcement:

"Although disappointed at the delay we're delighted that the Government has refused to cave in to tobacco industry lobbying for the repeal of the tobacco display legislation. At its heart the new Tobacco Plan builds on the strategy put in place by the previous Government. This Plan is proof that there is now a strong cross-party political consensus that tough action to tackle smoking is the primary public health priority and a strong signal to Council Health and Wellbeing Boards that tackling smoking needs to be top of their agenda. We are delighted that this Government is putting us on track to be the first European country tobacco to put tobacco in plain packs. This is an essential next step in protecting young people from the insidious marketing tactics of the tobacco industry. Our research shows that this measure will have widespread public support."

The public stands fast by the new law as well. A YouGov poll commissioned by ASH found that almost two thirds (64%) of the public would support plain packaging if there was evidence that plain packaging was less likely to give the false impression that one type of cigarette is safer than another. Three-quarters of respondents (75%) would support plain packaging if plain packs made health warnings more effective. Four fifths (80%) would support plain packaging if plain packs were found to be less attractive to children and young people than branded packs.

So what does legislation look like around the world right now?

A 2006 smoking ban in Buenos Aires city prohibits smoking in public areas including bars and restaurants except if the bar is more than 100 m2 where it is possible to provide an area for smoking customers. Similar bans in other Argentine cities require bigger establishments to provide a separate, contained area for smoking customers. The rule is not nationwide.

Italy was the fourth country in the world to enact a nationwide smoking ban. Since 2005 it is forbidden to smoke in all public indoor spaces, including bars, caf├ęs, restaurants and discos. However, special smoking rooms are allowed. In such areas food can be served, but they are subjected to strict conditions: they need to be separately ventilated, with high air replacement rates; their air pressure must constantly be lower than the pressure in the surrounding rooms; they must be equipped with automatic sliding doors to prevent smoke from spreading to tobacco-free areas; they may occupy at most 50% of the establishment. Only 1% of all public establishments have opted for setting up a smoking room.

Syrian smoking is banned inside cafes, restaurants and other public spaces by a presidential decree issued late 2009 and came in to force April 2010. Syria was the first Arab country to introduce such a ban. The decree also outlaws smoking in educational institutions, health centers, sports halls, cinemas and theatres and on public transport.

In the holy Vatican City, Pope John Paul II signed a law in 2002 which banned smoking on all places accessible to the public and in all closed places of work within the Vatican City and within all extraterritorial properties of the Holy See. Smoking bans in museums, libraries and churches on Vatican territory were already in force before that date for a long time.

Finally, the Vietnamese government has banned smoking and cigarette sales in offices, production facilities, schools, hospitals, and on public transport nationwide. Smoking was banned in enclosed indoor spaces and public facilities in Ho Chi Minh City in 2005 with the exception of entertainment areas. A ban has also been imposed on all forms of advertisement, trade promotion, and sponsorship by tobacco companies, as well as cigarette sales through vending machines, or over the telephone and on the Internet.

Source: United Kingdom Action on Smoking and Health

Sy Kraft, B.A.

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