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HEALTH

How is Italy planning to tighten laws on smoking?

The Italian health ministry is set to bring in tighter restrictions on smoking. Does this mean Italy will now join other EU countries in making beaches, parks and restaurant terraces smoke-free?

How is Italy planning to tighten laws on smoking?
Smoking in outdoor public areas could soon be restricted in Italy as the health ministry plans to bring in new nationwide rules. (Photo by Thomas COEX / AFP)

Exactly 20 years after Italy published its first rules banning smoking in indoor public places, the health minister this week announced new restrictions on smoking outdoors and vaping which could bring Italy in line with many other parts of Europe.

Health Minister Orazio Schillaci told the country’s parliament on Tuesday that new restrictions on cigarettes and other nicotine products were needed due to “the constantly increasing diffusion of new products on the market and growing evidence of their possible harmful effects on health.”

“Measures will have to be taken to guarantee all citizens maximum protection of their health, which is a fundamental right of the individual and a community interest.”

The minister said the current smoking ban would be extended to new products such as e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products.

Smoking cigarettes would also be banned in “open-air places in the presence of minors and pregnant women”, he said, while designated smoking rooms at indoor premises open to the public would no longer be allowed.

The government also plans to extend the advertising ban which applies to cigarettes to all new products containing nicotine, he said.

No further details were given, and the minister did not specify which types of premises would be covered or how a ban on smoking in the presence of minors and pregnant women would be applied.

Italy first enforced a ban on smoking in indoor public places such as bars and restaurants in 2005. (Photo by GIULIO NAPOLITANO / AFP)

Italy’s current laws prohibit vaping, or smoking electronic cigarettes, in healthcare facilities, on school premises, in public buildings and in workplaces. 

But bars, restaurants, shops and indoor shopping centres are free to set their own rules on vaping – something which may also change under the updated laws, Schillaci said.

Italy was a pioneer in Europe in banning smoking in closed public spaces, notably at indoor bars and restaurants, under the ‘Sirchia’ law published in January 2003 and which came fully into effect in 2005.

Such prohibitions are now widespread. However Italy’s smoking laws today are relatively lax compared to those in some other countries and there are frequent calls to extend the ban to Italy’s restaurant terraces, beaches, and other outdoor public areas.

At the moment, bans on smoking in such places are limited to a few local ordinances.

Milan is the only city so far to have a ban on smoking in outdoor public areas, such as at bus stops and in parks, while the southern region of Puglia plans to bring in a ban on smoking on all beaches by summer 2023.

A man smokes a cigarette on Milan’s Piazza del Duomo in January 2021 as it became the first Italian city to introduce an outdoor smoking ban under an air quality ordinance. (Photo by Piero CRUCIATTI / AFP)

Other Italian cities including Verona and Bolzano outlaw smoking in public parks – though not on the streets – while Venice has long proposed making parts of its historic centre no-smoking zones (without passing any legislation to date).

Between 2005 and 2021, the number of smokers aged 15 and over in Italy fell by one million to 11.6 million, according to Italy’s ISS health agency.

But the number of smokers in Italy has risen again in recent years, with health authorities partly attributing the reversed trend to pandemic lockdowns.

An ISS report published in 2022 said there were around 800,000 more smokers than two years ago, and data showed that almost one in four Italians was a smoker.

Smoking is “still the main cause of preventable morbidity and mortality in Italy,” said Schillaci on Tuesday, adding that the government aims to meet the EU target of less than five percent of the population using tobacco products by 2040.

Italian health ministry data from 2022 estimated that over 93,000 deaths annually in Italy were caused by smoking, and that smoking-related illness costs the country’s health service some €26 billion a year.

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ENVIRONMENT

REVEALED: These are the most polluted towns in Italy

The northern cities of Milan and Turin were named Italy's 'smog capitals' in a new pollution report on Monday which urged the government to take action over poor air quality.

REVEALED: These are the most polluted towns in Italy
Photo: Pixabay

Smog and pollution are choking Italian cities year-round and many towns are exceeding limits on fine particles and other pollution, according to another report from Italian environmental watchdog Legambiente.

The Mal’aria di città (Air pollution in the city) report for 2023, unveiled on Monday, was the latest to warn about the risks to health posed by pollution in many parts of the country.

It found that 25 of 95 cities monitored had violated clean air ordinances by exceeding daily fine particle (PM10) emission limits, which are currently set at no more than 35 days a year with a daily average of over 50 micrograms per cubic metre.

Turin was ranked as the worst offender, exceeding this level on 90 days, closely followed by Milan (84), Asti (79), Modena (75), and Padua and Venice at 70.

These were followed by Cremona, Treviso, Mantua and Rovigo, all of which exceeded limits to a lesser degree.

All of the most polluted cities were in the northern Italian regions of Piedmont, Lombardy, Emilia Romagna and Veneto, with most within the north-western ‘industrial triangle’.

Some southern cities featured nearer the bottom of the ranking, with Andria (Puglia) and Ragusa (Sicily) exceeding limits on several days, as well as Rome, which overshot the permitted level for one day.

(Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

The average annual rate of PM10 emissions nationwide dropped slightly, by two percent year-on-year, the report found.

“This, however, is not enough to guarantee the health of citizens,” said Stefano Ciafani, president of Legambiente.

He pointed out that the situation looked even worse if air quality in Italian cities were measured against tighter limits under the new European Directive on air quality, in force from 2030, which lowers the PM10 threshold from 35 to 20 micrograms per cubic meter of air.

“Only 23 out of 96 cities (24 percent) would be under these limits,” Ciafani said, while 84 percent would exceed the threshold for PM2.5 and 61 percent for nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

Italy has repeatedly been reprimanded by the European Union over air quality, and has “persistently and systematically” breached EU recommended limits, the European Court of Justice ruled in 2020.

The north of Italy has long been ranked among the worst areas in Europe for polluted air according to data from the European Environment Agency.

“Air pollution is not only an environmental problem, but also a health problem of great importance,” said Ciafani. “In Europe, it’s the main cause of premature death due to environmental factors.”

“Italy has more than 52,000 deaths per year caused by PM2.5 emissions, equal to a fifth of those recorded throughout the continent,” he said.

The main causes of air pollution in Italian cities are reported to be industry, inefficient domestic heating systems, agricultural practices and, most of all, heavy traffic.

In Italy, cars continue to be by far the most-used means of transport. 65.3 percent of journeys overall are made by car, Legambiante wrote, with the emissions from some 38 million cars choking Italy’s towns and cities.

(Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP)

Legambiente said “drastic” measures were required to tackle the problem, including funds for more efficient heating systems in homes and public buildings and a major increase in public transport provision.

The group said Italy must “quadruple the availability of public transit, promoting integrated season tickets as done by Germany in 2022”, triple the number of electric buses, create zero-emission zones in town centres, and “create another 16,000 kilometres of cycle paths”.

It also praised local authorities choosing to bring in 30 km/h speed limits in city centres. Councils in Bologna, Turin, Milan and Cesena have all said they plan to implement these limits, following the lead of European cities including Paris and Madrid, despite fierce criticism from Italian transport minister Matteo Salvini.

Legambiente published a petition urging the government to make clean air and more livable cities a priority, saying Italy should follow Paris in attempting to create ’15-minute cities’, in which everyone lives within a quarter of an hour’s walk of vital amenities such as shops and schools and possibly also workplaces.