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PLoS One. 2011;6(8):e23889. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0023889. Epub 2011 Aug 31.

What factors influence smoking prevalence and smoke free policy enactment across the European Union Member States.

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UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, United Kingdom.



Smoking prevention should be a primary public health priority for all governments, and effective preventive policies have been identified for decades. The heterogeneity of smoking prevalence between European Union (EU) Member States therefore reflects, at least in part, a failure by governments to prioritise public health over tobacco industry or possibly other financial interests, and hence potentially government corruption. The aims of this study were to test the hypothesis that smoking prevalence is higher in countries with high levels of public sector corruption, and explore the ecological association between smoking prevalence and a range of other national characteristics in current EU Member States.


Ecological data from 27 EU Member States were used to estimate univariate and multivariate correlations between smoking prevalence and the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index, and a range of other national characteristics including economic development, social inclusion, quality of life and importance of religion. We also explored the association between the Corruption Perceptions Index and measures of the extent to which smoke-free policies have been enacted and are enforced.


In univariate analysis, smoking prevalence was significantly higher in countries with higher scores for corruption, material deprivation, and gender inequality; and lower in countries with higher per capita Gross Domestic Product, social spending, life satisfaction and human development scores. In multivariate analysis, only the corruption perception index was independently related to smoking prevalence. Exposure to tobacco smoke in the workplace was also correlated with corruption, independently from smoking prevalence, but not with the measures of national smoke-free policy implementation.


Corruption appears to be an important risk factor for failure of national tobacco control activity in EU countries, and the extent to which key tobacco control policies have been implemented. Further research is needed to assess the causal relationships involved.

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