Health and Healthcare Systems

Smoking bans: These countries are tackling tobacco use

Countries are increasingly banning tobacco use, which kills more than 8 million people a year.

Countries are increasingly banning tobacco use, which kills more than 8 million people a year. Image: Unsplash/minhtit96

Andrea Willige
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
Ian Shine
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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This article is part of: Centre for Health and Healthcare

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This article was first published in August 2023 and was updated in September 2023 and November 2023. It was further updated in November 2023 to remove New Zealand after a policy change.

  • Governments are introducing smoking bans and restrictions on tobacco and vaping sales to address health concerns.
  • Countries including Portugal, Canada, Australia, France, Mexico and the United Kingdom want to raise a "smoke-free" generation.
  • The World Economic Forum’s Global Health and Healthcare Strategic Outlook 2023 sets out a roadmap for how countries can achieve better healthcare by 2035.

On 29 March 2004, Ireland started a global chain reaction. It was the day Ireland became the first country in the world to put an end to all indoor smoking in workplaces. The law was met with both praise and outrage – the latter mainly because it covered not just offices, but restaurants and entertainment venues. Since then, patrons smoking on pavements outside pubs, clubs and restaurants have become a common sight.

And not just in Ireland. The country’s trailblazing initiative sparked a wave of similar policies around the globe.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), tobacco use kills more than 8 million people a year. Of these deaths, 1.2 million are people who have been exposed to second-hand smoke. This is smoke emitted from a cigarette or another tobacco product or exhaled by a smoker. The WHO describes tobacco use as “one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced”. Smoking is widely seen as a risk factor for conditions that can be fatal, such as lung cancer, heart disease and stroke.

Graph showing the premature deaths attributed to smoking per 100,000 individuals.
Smoking remains one of the world’s gravest health risks. Image: Our World in Data

Given the strain on public health systems since the pandemic, it is not surprising that many countries are now tightening existing legislation around tobacco use. While many countries have already banned indoor tobacco use in public venues, the next stage is a ban on smoking outdoors.

Portugal: a 'smoke-free generation' by 2040

In May, the Portuguese government announced draft legislation to restrict sales of tobacco and smoking in outdoor public spaces from autumn 2023. If passed, the act would ban smoking outside bars, restaurants and cafes, as well as public facilities such as universities, schools and sports venues. From 2025, the law would also restrict sales of tobacco products to licensed tobacconists and airport shops. This would mean bars, cafes, restaurants and petrol stations can no longer sell tobacco products.

The ban would also extend to vaping and would restrict the promotion of tobacco to discourage young people from sliding into dependency. The goal for the Portuguese government is achieving a “smoke-free generation” by 2040.

Canada: a warning on each cigarette

Canada aims to achieve a similar goal, reducing tobacco use to less than 5% by 2035. To achieve this, the Canadian government will soon be raising the bar on the visibility of warning messages about the health risks of smoking.

Warning labels on cigarette packaging have been mandatory in Canada since the late 1980s – considerably later than the US and the UK, where the measure was introduced in 1965 and 1971, respectively. However, the federal health department, Health Canada, is going a step further by printing warning messages directly on the filter paper of cigarettes and similar products.


Australia: focus on youth

Australia’s largest state, Queensland, has embarked on a campaign to create smoke-free public places, including school car parks and at events for children and under-18s. Queensland’s government will also launch an enquiry to establish tighter regulation for e-cigarettes and vaping.

Map showing the prevalence of current tobacco use among persons aged 15 years and older.
More than 80% of tobacco users live in the developing world. Image: Our World in Data

France: ban on e-cigarettes

One country that already has plans in place to ban e-cigarettes is France. The Prime Minister, Elisabeth Borne, told RTL radio station in September that the government will shortly ban "the famous 'puffs' which give bad habits to young people”.

This comes after the President, Emmanuel Macron, announced in 2021 his plan for all 20 year-olds in 2030 to be non-smokers. In a bid to tackle the country's smoking-related cancer deaths, Macron pledged to create "the first tobacco-free generation", increasing the price of cigarettes and extending smoke-free zones, among other measures.

Mexico: strict anti-tobacco laws

More than 80% of tobacco users live in low- and middle-income countries, according to the WHO. Earlier this year, Mexico – which the World Bank considers an upper-middle-income country – introduced one of the strictest anti-tobacco laws in the world.

The government extended an existing ban on smoking in hospitality and workplace settings to include all public spaces – including parks and beaches, for example. If enforced stringently, this will effectively limit smoking to private homes. In addition, tobacco promotion is now entirely banned, so cigarettes may not even be on show in-store any more.


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The UK: raising the smoking age every year

Anyone aged 14 or under in the UK will never be able to legally buy cigarettes or any other tobacco product under planned new legislation that could come into force in 2024. The Tobacco and Vapes Bill will raise the age for buying cigarettes every year, and create restrictions around the sale and marketing of e-cigarettes to children.

Smoking is the leading cause of cancer in the UK, according to the charity Cancer Research, which says that around 6.4 million adults in the country are smokers. It adds that government action is proven to play a critical role in cutting smoking. "Around a third of 16 to 24-year-olds in Great Britain smoked in the 1990s, and more than 4 in 10 of them did in the 1970s, [but] measures like raising taxes on tobacco and banning smoking in public places have lowered that to 13% today."

Better healthcare for the future

Initiatives across the world to curb the health impacts of smoking and raise the next generation as non-smokers come at a time when economies are re-evaluating their healthcare systems.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Health and Healthcare Strategic Outlook 2023, the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and their socioeconomic, environmental and geopolitical impacts still loom large. At the same time as overcoming these challenges, governments also need to ensure that their health systems are set up for the future. The report sets out a roadmap for how countries can achieve better health and healthcare by 2035.

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