European Union legislators are due to meet with national authorities and consumer groups to discuss a proposed continentwide ban on smoking in restaurants, bars and public spaces.

EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou presented a discussion paper Tuesday calling for the ban.

"Smoke-free policies are very popular with European citizens ...," Kyprianou said. "Every European deserves full protection from tobacco smoke."

Ireland introduced first ban in 2004

All 27 EU countries have introduced different smoking restrictions in varying levels. In March 2004, Ireland became the first country to institute a total ban on smoking in all workplaces, including the country's more than 10,000 pubs. France is due to introduce a ban in offices and other public buildings later this week.

In Canada, smoking is banned in public places with regional exceptions for ventilated areas and designated smoking areas.

When first introduced, smoking bans have provoked debate, with some restaurant and bar owners protesting that the new rules will hurt sales.

But health officials maintain that the bans are necessary, saying they protect non-smokers from the harmful effects of second-hand smoke. Authorities also suggest the bans have compelled some smokers to give up the habit.

John Malcom, head of the Cape Breton District Health Authority in Nova Scotia, says the number of smokers in the area has decreased from 30 per cent to 24 per cent since a smoking ban was first introduced five years ago.

EU health officials urge tougher legislation

Some EU health officials are encouraging legislators to introduce more sweeping initiatives, such as introducing counselling services and higher tobacco taxes.

"Any policy designed to make a significant and lasting impact on the numbers of Europeans that die from smoking must go beyond the creation of smoke-free environments and help smokers - the main victims of smoking - to give up," Sir Alexander Macara, vice-president of the Standing Committee of European Doctors, and John Chave, secretary general of the Pharmaceutical Group of the EU, said in a statement.