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Smoking in cars: Which countries have banned it and what are the rules across Europe?

Germany plans to enforce a partial ban on smoking in cars to protect children and pregnant women from exposure.
Germany plans to enforce a partial ban on smoking in cars to protect children and pregnant women from exposure. Copyright Canva
Copyright Canva
By Servet Yanatma
Published on Updated
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Smoking in cars is completely banned in only three EU countries whereas there is no ban in 13 EU countries.

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Germany plans to ban smoking in cars with children and pregnant women. The country's Minister of Health Karl Lauterbach, who has been pushing for the ban, stated that it should have been introduced earlier. 

Laws controlling smoking vary across European countries, and smoking in cars is completely banned in only three EU countries. As of 2022, there was no ban on smoking in cars in 13 EU Member States according to Smoke Free Partnership (SFP).

"Passive smoking is dangerous, especially for children," the National Health System (NHS) of the UK warns, and then suggests: "At the very least, make sure you have a smokefree home and car".

Which countries in Europe have already banned smoking in cars? Are those bans complete or partial? What are the laws on smoking in private cars across European countries?

The SFP, which is a large European coalition of NGOs working on EU policy analysis and advocacy to mobilise decision-makers to make tobacco control a political priority, provides a comprehensive map of smoking regulations in Europe.

No ban, partial ban, or complete ban?

There are three main practices in the regulation of smoking in cars: countries may apply no ban, a partial ban, or a complete ban. 

Smoking in cars is completely banned in only three EU countries as of 2022 according to the SFP. These are Italy, Latvia and Lithuania. It is also completely banned in Turkey, a candidate country. 

This means that complete bans on smoking in cars are in place in only four out of the 39 European countries.

Partial bans have become widespread in the last decade

Partial bans on smoking in cars have become more popular in the last decade. Eleven EU countries have enforced partial bans, which largely address smoking in cars with children under 18. 

These countries are as follows: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Slovakia and Slovenia. Smoking in cars is also partially banned in the UK, for a total of 12 out of 39 countries.

Only Ireland considers pregnant women: What are partial bans?

Partial bans are largely bans that specifically prohibit smoking in cars when children under the age of 18 are present. This age limit is 12 years in Luxembourg, 15 years in Finland, and 16 years in Cyprus.

Only in Ireland does a partial ban also consider the presence of pregnant women according to the SFP. Smoking in cars is prohibited in Ireland if a pregnant woman is present.

No ban in 60% of European countries

There is still no ban in the majority of countries in Europe. Smoking in cars is allowed in 13 EU Member States and 23 out of 39 countries in Europe, equivalent to no ban in six out of every 10 states. 

The countries without bans are Bulgaria, Croatia, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iceland, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Norway, Serbia, Switzerland and Ukraine.

'Children and pregnant women need better protection'

Several countries have been discussing the banning of smoking in cars, and Germany is particularly close to doing so. 

"Children and pregnant women need better protection in society. No smoking in the car when traveling is a must. It should have been introduced earlier… Especially in pregnancy and with small children permanent damage can occur," said German Health Minister Lauterbach in a social media post in which he shared news articles on this topic published in German media.

Is passive smoking dangerous?

Secondhand or passive smoking is dangerous, particularly for children. When someone smokes a cigarette, most of the smoke does not enter their lungs; smoke also goes into the air and anyone nearby can breathe it in.

People who breathe in secondhand smoke regularly are more likely to get the same diseases as smokers, including lung cancer and heart disease, according to the NHS. 

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Pregnant women passively exposed to smoke are also more prone to experiencing premature delivery and their babies are at greater risk of low birthweight and sudden infant death syndrome. Children are particularly vulnerable in family cars, where passive smoking can reach hazardous levels even with the windows open.

The bigger picture: Which countries have the best control over smoking?

What about the overall state of smoking legislation in Europe? 

The SFP categorises countries into four groups to show which countries provide sufficient and effective protection from secondhand smoke and which countries could do more to protect their citizens through either improved legislation or improved compliance:

  • Weak: Countries coded as red offer little or no protection. Smoke-free legislation is both weak and unenforced. Exposure to secondhand smoke is high.
  • Limited: Orange countries offer limited protection. Many public areas may be smoke-free but 100 per cent protection is unattainable due to exemptions or strong legislation is weakened due to poor compliance.
  • Good: In light green countries, smoke-free legislation is both strong and well enforced.
  • Very Good: In dark green countries, smoke-free legislation is both very strong and strongly enforced. Smoking in workplaces, hospitality venues such as bars and restaurants, and other public places is negligible.

The overall status of smoking legislation is very good in six EU countries, namely Greece, Hungary, Ireland, the Netherlands, Romania, and Spain, as well as the UK. 

The countries categorised as "good" are Austria, Belgium, Estonia, Finland, France, Iceland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Norway, Slovenia, Sweden, Turkey, and Ukraine.

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More work needed: Overall state of smoking control is weak in Germany

Seventeen out of 39 countries are categorised as having limited or weak control over smoking. Four EU countries are weak in this regard, namely Germany, Denmark, Croatia, and Bulgaria. 

This suggests that EU Member States and candidate or potential candidate countries should work hard to provide "protection from exposure to tobacco smoke in indoor workplaces, public transport, indoor public places and, as appropriate, other public places” as the Framework Convention of the World Health Organization (WHO) stated.

Which countries smoke the most and the least?

In 2019, 18.4 per cent of people aged 15 years and over in the EU were daily smokers according to EU’s official statistical office, Eurostat

The share of daily smokers ranged from 6.4 per cent in Sweden to 28.7 per cent in Bulgaria in the EU.

Exposure to tobacco smoke on a daily basis

In 2019, 15.4 per cent of people aged 15 years and over in the EU reported that they were exposed to tobacco smoke on a daily basis.

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The highest shares of people exposed to smoke on a daily basis in 2019 were observed in Croatia (34.7 per cent), Bulgaria (29.3 per cent) and Greece (28.0 per cent) among the EU countries. This rate was below 5.0 per cent in Finland, whereas Serbia (49.0 per cent) had the highest rate.

Exposure to secondhand smoke was responsible for 171,000 deaths and contributed to 4.3 million disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) in the WHO European Region in 2019 according to the Global Burden of Disease study.

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