The negative effects of smoking are long proven and nearly every country in the world has committed to fight the practice. It is also well known what causes people to quit smoking - high prices, restrictions on public smoking, disgusting and plain packaging, etc. However even within the EU the fight against smoking seems to be highly inconsistent - many countries still have relatively cheap cigarettes and few have implemented extreme packaging laws.

So what's the holdup? Why don't all developed countries simultaneously pass a set of restrictions on smoking, using the best practices in the area?


3 Answers 3


Three factors are playing a part of this problem:

  1. The lobbyism in the tobacco industry is one of the biggest and strongest in the world.
  2. The tobacco industry is expanding in countries with a large working class because the less educated a profession is, the more keep people in this profession is to smoke*. This means that even though the number of smokers are falling in the western world, globally the numbers are increasing**. They are expanding in pretty developed countries because the marked is present.
  3. The tobacco industry have for very long disproved, by using statical math and taking advance of doubt, the link between smoking and cancer. A large portion of the tobacco profit is spent on creating "safer" cigarrets, less smelly cigaretes and sow on. ***

*sorry, I only have a danish source: https://www.avisen.dk/joachim-b-ufaglaerte-er-ikke-mere-nedslidte-end-aka_434090.aspx

**John Oliver: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6UsHHOCH4q8

** This is from a source.


There are certainly a bunch of factors that play a role, here are two that haven't been mentioned so far (I think):

  • The rule making process is long and complicated. For example, smoking bans in bars, restaurant or public transportation are now very common in the EU. The details vary but I think there is some type of ban in just about any EU country and you can clearly see a trend from the year 2000s onwards. But it didn't happen all at once, this rules need to be established country-by-country and sometimes even province-by-province.

  • The cost of living (and income) vary widely. To continue with an example you mentioned in the comments, Romania is one of the poorest country in the EU, its GDP per capita is a fourth of that of Germany, a fifth of that of Denmark and half that of the Czech Republic. There is just no way the price of a pack of cigarettes could realistically be set at (the equivalent of) €6 over there.

    That's one example of a larger issue with the last waves of enlargement. When countries like Greece or Portugal joined, they were relatively poor but not that poor that the imbalance would create serious tensions and also small enough that larger, richer countries could ignore the problem and wait for convergence. Everything (free movement for services, goods, and people, borderless travel) becomes much more of an issue when the gap is bigger.

  • I took Numbeo's data on cigarette prices and salaries. Out of EEA countries, the most expensive cigarettes (relative to median income after tax) are in Hungary of all places where one can only afford 140 packs per month. And the cheapest cigarettes are in Switzerland where the average smoker can get 600 packs per month. Commented May 27, 2017 at 21:58

Smoke cannot be banned because it would be a huge and totally unrequested and unacceptable limitation of people freedom. Smoking a lot is as dangerous as many other "a lot" things in our life, for example:

"the negative effects of eating junk food are long proven"

but have you ever heard of a government trying to impose its population an healthy diet? How do you think people would react? Another example, many motorcyclists die every year because, let's be honest, it's a dangerous hobby (I'm a motorcyclist myself and aware of it)

What a government can do is to educate people and try to limit collateral damage (aka passive smoke, in this case)

What a government cannot do is to just step up and say "ok, from now on we'll tax tobacco so that no one will be able to buy it", because it would be exactly like banning it. And by the way, you are asking why governments do not raise prices of cigarettes, but cigarettes are a just a normal products from some manufacturer; the government cannot just impose price of products to companies (again, freedom). Up to a limit you can justify higher taxis to cover national health expenditure (in case of cigarettes, it's different for other taxis), but to raise prices to the level of making them impossible to buy? Naaa.

And, note: I lost my loved grandfather 'cause of smoking, I don't like smoke at all (not just for my grandfather), I'm happy that I don't have to passively smoke when drinking my coffee, and so on. Still, I think we should stop being hypocrites when it comes to it; people have the right to choose, everybody is informed about the risk of smoke, we don't even allow advertising on cigarettes, it's more than enough; once you spread information, once you educate people, once you've done everything possible, heck, let people take their decisions. It's their life, after all, and unlike drugs they are only damaging themselves.

Could I take a decision, I'd remove the idiotic law about the ugly packages and about sponsorships.

  • That's not answering the question. Commented May 25, 2017 at 7:17
  • @JonathanReez It is "Why don't all developed countries simultaneously pass a set of restrictions on smoking, using the best practices in the area?". Every country is doing its best to cope up with its citizens needs and priorities; what you feel are cheap cigarettes more probably are cigarettes taxed at the maximum that it's acceptable, and so on.
    – motoDrizzt
    Commented May 25, 2017 at 7:27
  • @JonathanReez totally unrelated: can you please post your Rome2Rio comment to my question on Travel.Se, as an answer instead? It's the only correct answer, I hate seeing it lingering in the comments.
    – motoDrizzt
    Commented May 25, 2017 at 7:29
  • 1
    Your comment does answer the question. However the answer itself is more of an explanation of libertarian values. I fully agree however I think it's hypocritical to allow cigarettes because of 'freedom' and ban drugs because 'they're bad'. Commented May 25, 2017 at 7:34
  • Which question? Post a link and I will Commented May 25, 2017 at 7:34

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