The Politics of Tobacco in Italy

Public Administration Minister Angelo Piazza says it best that "the most serious problem in the cabinet is smoke. (Regional Affairs Minister Katia) Belillo smokes cigarettes on one side of me, while on the other (Finance Minister Vincenzo) Visco smokes cigars. There's a 'no-smoking' sign, but everyone ignores it" (22).

Italian legislators tried to enact stiff bans in public places in 1975, but the results were mixed with theaters and public transportation being smoke-free, hospitals and schools not always and restaurants definitely not (33).

    However, Health Minister, and one of Europe's leading cancer specialists, Umberto Veronesi, drafted a bill to ban smoking in public and private indoor areas accessible to the public.
  • Approved July 7, 2000.
  • Areas include bars, restaurants, prisons, harbors, airports, police stations, and sports, cultural and recreational facilities (32).
  • Fines: 100,000-300,000 lire ($50-150) (43) applied to the smoker, 2500 Euros ($2263) to owners, managers and designated "smoke-busters" who fail to adhere to the law (32).
  • The proceeds from the fines would go to fund anti-smoking campaigns (43).
However, this new ban has conflicts with the Italian long-standing tendency to avoid prohibitions on personal behavior. Parking restrictions and seat belt requirements have also been largely ignored. One Roman columnist says, "I have seen stretcher bearers smoking. I have seen people smoking over coffins. The driver who is filling his tank at the gas station and spilling gas onto the ground continues to keep his cigarette lit"(19). Prohibition on smoking has been overwhelmed in the past by the powers of pro-tobacco groups and opposition from tobacco retailers, bar and restaurant associations and the tobacco industry (32).

    And then there is the problem of the state:
  • It produces one-third of all cigarettes consumed in Italy.
  • It is the sole legal distributor of tobacco.
  • The Finance Ministry earns about $8 billion annually.
Giuliano Bianucci, president of the Italian Courteous Smokers Association, remarks that "the cancer of cigarettes is the cancer of the state. It will be fun watching the government try to file a lawsuit against itself." Therefore, Italy has not pursued any legal battles (19). However, Veronesi believes such measures need to be taken in order to raise the awareness of the dangers of smoking. Bianucci believes the health minister is trying to attack an Italian problem with American solutions and that "it's an issue of culture. Prohibition doesn't tend to work in Italy. We are by nature a very tolerant society" (18).

Smoking man The Vatican has also intervened with the Pope giving approval of a ban on smoking in 1997 for its addictive habit on a par with taking heroin. However, it resulted with anger and opposition from the Green, Communist and Right-Wing parties (24).

Umberto Veronesi
Umberto Veronesi
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