European Commission

EU: Tobacco use is down by 2 percentage points, but 26% of Europeans are still smokers

Ahead of World No Tobacco Day on Sunday 31 May, the Commission publishes a Eurobarometer on Europeans’ attitudes towards tobacco. The survey reveals a downward trend in tobacco use across Europe. The overall reduction compared with 2012 is 2 percentage points (26% vs. 28%). The age category that saw the biggest drop (4 percentage points) was young people aged 15 to 24 (25% vs 29%). There are still notable variations in tobacco consumption with lowest rates seen in Sweden (11%) and Finland (19%) and the highest in Greece (38%) and Bulgaria (35%). Regarding quitting attempts, a majority of smokers have tried to quit (59%), with 19% having tried in the past 12 months. Regarding e-cigarettes, 12% of Europeans have now tried them, compared with 7% in 2012. 67% said they tried them to reduce or quit smoking. However, only 14% of e-cigarette users were able to stop smoking, indicating that they are not particularly effective as a quitting tool.

A figure highlighted by Vytenis Andriukaitis, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, is that the average age that Europeans start smoking remains unchanged at 17.6 years. Commissioner Andriukaitis commented: “Figures show that the fight against tobacco is not won, particularly amongst the young. It is unacceptable that Europeans continue to be attracted to smoking when they are teenagers. A central aim of the Tobacco Products Directive is to ensure that these dangerous products are not unduly attractive to the young. That is why it bans flavours that mask the harsh taste of tobacco as well as slim packs and packs with less than 20 cigarettes, and makes picture and text health warnings covering 65% of pack mandatory.”


The Eurobarometer reveals some interesting figures on e-cigarettes, a relatively new product. While 12% of Europeans have tried e-cigarettes, 2% are currently using them. These numbers have significantly increased since 2012 (7% and 1%, respectively). Younger Europeans are more likely to have tried them (13% of 15-24 years olds compared with 3% of people aged 55+). Whereas Europeans are most likely to start using e-cigarettes in order to reduce or stop smoking (67%), just 21% of smokers were able to cut down with these products and only 14% were able to stop smoking.

Exposure to tobacco smoke

Exposure to tobacco smoke in bars and restaurants continues to decline. Only 12% said they had been exposed to tobacco smoke in eating establishments in the past year (down from 14% in 2012), and 25% in drinking establishments (down from 28% in 2012). Furthermore, 73% of workers in Europe are rarely or never exposed to smoke indoors in their workplace.

Public perceptions

The majority of Europeans are in favour of strict policy measures surrounding tobacco and e-cigarettes. For example, 70% are in favour of improving the traceability of tobacco products in order to reduce illicit trade (the theme of this year’s World No Tobacco Day), even if it makes the products more expensive. On perceived danger, tar or nicotine levels are considered the highest indication of the level of harm (32%), followed by additives (12%). As for e-cigarettes, the percentage of people surveyed who consider them to be harmful has risen from 27% to 52% in only two years.


Four out of 10 respondents have seen tobacco ads or promotions in the past 12 months, particularly as sales points (39%) and billboards or posters in public spaces (30%).

Eurobarometer methodology

The ‘Attitudes of Europeans towards tobacco’ Eurobarometer survey was carried out by TNS Opinion & social network in all 28 EU countries between 29 November and 8 December 2014. It involved face to face interviews with nearly 28 000 respondents from different social and demographic groups.


Smoking is the biggest avoidable cause of death in Europe, responsible for around 700 000 deaths per year. The EU has a comprehensive policy to tackle tobacco which includes legislation on tobacco advertising and sponsorship, and tobacco products, support to Member States and awareness raising, such as the European Commission’s current Ex-smokers are Unstoppable campaign.

On 3 April 2014, the EU adopted the Tobacco Products Directive (2014/40/EU) with rules on the manufacture, presentation and sale of tobacco and related products that will apply in Member States from May 2016. The products it covers include cigarettes, roll your own tobacco, pipe tobacco, cigars, cigarillos, smokeless tobacco, electronic cigarettes and herbal products for smoking.

Some features of the Directive are a ban on characterising flavours, introduction of combined (picture and text) health warnings covering 65% of the front and back of cigarette and roll-your-own tobacco packages, a ban on all promotional and misleading elements on tobacco products, and an EU-wide tracking and tracing to combat illicit trade of tobacco products.

For more information:

See infographic:

EU tobacco policy:

Current and previous Eurobarometers on tobacco:

Tobacco Products Directive:

Indicative implementation plan of the Tobacco Products Directive: