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Last Updated: Friday, 24 October, 2003, 09:08 GMT 10:08 UK
Norway gets tough on smoking
By Karen Allen
BBC Health Correspondent

Many Norwegians smoke
Norway is to be one of the first countries in the world to bring in a national ban on smoking in restaurants, bars and cafes.

As a campaign is launched to prepare the Norwegian public for the change, Dr Gro Harlem Bruntland, the country's former premier and until recently, the head of the World Health Organisation, has challenged ministers in Britain to become more bold with their anti-smoking laws.

The aim of the Norwegian ban is not only to protect staff that work in these establishments from the harmful effects of passive smoking, but also to "de-normalise" smoking as a social pastime.

It will come into force next summer - some consolation for smokers who will have to take their habit outside and puff away in temperatures of minus 20 degrees during the harsh Scandinavian winters.

Other countries like the Netherlands are on course to follow Norway's lead.

Bold moves needed

Britain, however, is unlikely to do likewise. Ministers have made it clear they favour voluntary smoking bans - fearful that they will be accused of running a "nanny state".

They have signed up to the first worldwide convention on tobacco control.

But Dr Bruntland made it clear in a interview with the BBC that for Britain stronger moves are needed.

She warned ministers that unless they were prepared to face political "discomfort" they wouldn't be going far enough - and would make little headway in getting smoking rates down.

Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland
Dr Brundtland backs the ban
"If we hadn't made bold steps - steps that in the beginning were opposed - we would not be where we are today," she said.

"Unless you have to struggle and fight for it then you are probably not going far enough."

Tobacco advertising has been prohibited in Norway for 30 years, and in 1988 an amendment to the Tobacco Act ensured restaurants and bars had to be 50% smoke free from 1998.

However, the moves seem to have had little effect.

One in three people in the country smoke, and there has been a rise in tobacco-related deaths.

If you extend the logic you would be banning hot food from restaurants in case the chef burns himself
Julian, England

A packet of cigarettes costs about 6 in Norway - but people can still afford to smoke, as the country has the highest per capita income in the world.

Now ministers have decided the time has come for radical action.

Setting a lead

Bjorn Inge Larsson, from Norway's health department, is confident Norway is setting a lead which other countries will soon follow.

"Most countries will have this kind of regulation within a few years."

A spokesman for Tiedemanns, Norway's biggest tobacco firm, argues that a total ban on lighting up in product places is going too far.

"There is full information in society, and has been for 50 years that is a harmful product and everyone knows. It is a personal choice whether you use it or not."

But industry whistleblower Dr Jeffrey Weigand backs the Norwegian stance.

His testimony to congress in the mid-1990s proved US tobacco giants had chemically enhanced cigarettes.

"This is an industry that has manipulated and tricked and obfuscated, and smuggled. It truly needs to be regulated."

Ireland has just passed legislation paving the way to outlaw smoking in a similar way.

But pub landlords in nine of the Republic's 26 counties have passed motions in parliament criticising the move - and some have vowed to risk heavy fines by ignoring the law.

The Netherlands plans to initiate a ban next year and Sweden and Finland are still debating the issue.

Global warning on smoking
27 Jul 03  |  Health
Norway set to ban public smoking
29 Nov 02  |  Europe
Smoking ban for Irish eateries
07 Nov 02  |  Europe

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