ROME, Feb. 15 (Xinhua) -- In the span of three decades, Italy has gone from a country with one of the highest per-capita smoking rates in Europe, to the first to outlaw smoking in public places and to one mulling a ban on smoking even in private automobiles.
Analysts are divided over the feasibility of a proposed reform to the traffic codes designed to prevent people from smoking in their own cars. Advocates say banning smoking in private vehicles would help avoid health problems related to smoking, while also decreasing traffic risks associated with drivers getting distracted while smoking.
"This idea presents a new take on a very old problem, which is how to balance the rights of an individual's freedom to make personal choices and the desire to make changes that benefit the public at large," Fabio Galli, an analyst on road and traffic issues with consumer organization Codacons, told Xinhua.
Galli said the proposal is in the "earliest stages" of passage, and that it has several apparent flaws.
"The first question I have is how it would be enforced," Galli said. "There's also the question of whether this is the kind of issue where the government should be involved."
Oliviero Fiorini, a political affairs with ABS Securities, said a low limiting smoking in vehicles would probably be treated as government overreach if questioned by courts.
"We see a few examples of the government trying to incentivize a kind of moral code," Fiorini said in an interview.
"There is the idea of forcing stores to close on Sundays so workers can spend time with their families, or closing the country's borders to reduce the impact of foreign cultures," Fiorini went on. "But a ban on smoking in cars seems to go a little further."
Fiorini said that if the goal is to reduce smoking, it would be more efficient to further raise taxes on cigarettes or to outlaw them all together. If the goal is to remove distractions for drivers, then rules should also be created against mobile phone use in cars.
Italy first started to regulate cigarette use in the early 1960s with a law against advertisements for smoking products and laws against smoking on public transport. In the 1970s, the government sponsored a series of public awareness campaigns, including in schools. Starting in 1990, cigarette packing was required to carry explicit health warnings.
Despite all that, Italy was among the European states with the highest percentage of cigarette smokers in 1990, when around 36 percent of adults smoked regularly, according to data monitoring company ResearchGate. That number has been reduced by more than half today, with only around 16 percent of adults reporting they smoke regularly.
"Reforms are having an effect, even if people were against them at the time," Giordano Bisemi, president of ASAPS, an entity promoting road safety, told Xinhua. "Almost 20 years ago, Italy was the first European Union country to outlaw smoking in restaurants and cinemas, for example."
But Bisemi said a ban on smoking in private cars may be too much.
"We already have rules against smoking in cars serving the public, like taxis and limousines," Bisemi said. "Drivers can't smoke in their car if they are driving a pregnant woman, or if children under the age of 12 are present. I'm not sure there's a value to going far beyond the laws that exist today."