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How is Italy planning to tighten laws on smoking?

Clare Speak
Clare Speak - [email protected]
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)

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?

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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."

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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.

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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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