From 1 January, smoking and vaping will be banned on train stations throughout Belgium, including on outdoor platforms, making the entire railway area smoke-free, railway company SNCB announced on Monday.
To smoothly implement the change, SNCB is launching an awareness campaign in stations and on trains on Monday 19 December (today). The messages will be spread through posters, announcements and information screens, as well as through various digital channels.
"Our children have the right to grow up in good health, including without exposure to tobacco. As children see fewer and fewer people smoking, the absence of tobacco is becoming the new norm for them," said Marc Michils, 'Generation Smoke-Free' spokesperson. "Generation Smoke-Free welcomes this measure that brings us closer to the first generation without tobacco."
The general ban on smoking in stations is a political decision that SNCB and cancer associations welcome. In practice, the measure will apply in all 550 stations in the country. There are three objectives: health, cleanliness and clarity.
7 in 10 in favour
In terms of health, the measure helps prevent unpleasant situations, as a tobacco-free environment protects passengers and railway staff from its harmful effects. This is also said to counteract copycat behaviour, especially among young people and children using the platforms.
Additionally, the measure also ensures more cleanliness, as cigarette butts will no longer be thrown on the platforms and tracks. Currently, cleaning tracks and platforms require complex logistics and involve very high annual costs.
If the law is uniformly applied, it will provide more clarity: the new measure does not distinguish between covered and open-air platforms, meaning the smoking ban will now simply apply to the entire railway area. France implemented the measure in 2017, and the Netherlands followed in 2020.
Additionally, this change is widely supported by train travellers: 7 in 10 travellers are in favour of tobacco-free platforms, according to a survey. Two pilot projects have already been carried out under the Generation Smoke-Free project: in November 2021 in Mechelen and in May 2022 in Charleroi. Encouraging results showed that the smoking ban was well-received and respected.
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At the same time, SNCB has set up a programme for staff members who want to quit smoking. Since June 2021, they will be offered the support they need to kick the habit.
In practice, ashtrays will be removed from platforms and prohibition signs at visible places will indicate the ban. The measure was introduced on 15 May 2022 by the 2018 amendment to the Railway Police Act. From now on, smokers will be fined according to the number of offences: €50, €75 or €150.
"There are 14,000 victims of tobacco every year in Belgium, that should spur us into action," said Federal Mobility Minister Georges Gilkinet in a press release. The initiative will "ensure healthier air on the platforms and, above all, reduce the pressure for young people who have quit, or want to quit smoking."