Hold your breath: Greece’s no-smoking law is ignored again

ATHENS – As World No Tobacco Day was quietly celebrated in Greece – which has one of the highest rates in the world – there are signs that an finally almost enforced smoking ban law is evaporating again.

The New Democracy government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis tried to implement the law after a number of failures by previous governments, some of which did not try.

But now, with the essential end to COVID-19 health restrictions despite the pandemic lingering and killing people every day, the push for an economic recovery and tourist attraction is seeing the law go up in smoke, Kathimerini said.

The newspaper noted that the ban on smoking in cafes, restaurants and bars had been touted but is now being flouted, even though anti-vaxxers who refused injections are rewarded with the same privileges as those who have been vaccinated and have helped ward off the pandemic.

With the full resumption of operations in the entertainment sector, following the lifting of the last COVID-related restrictions this summer, this progress (in No Smoking) began to be undermined in practice,” the newspaper said.

This is especially the case in late-night entertainment and the notorious Greek dog-singing nightclubs who go wild and generally ignore all laws, especially those regarding smoking, and get away with it. .

“Restoring legality is a matter of institutional credibility, but also of dealing with an ongoing risk to public health,” the newspaper said in an editorial with no sign that the government would do anything but turn a blind eye.

On the occasion of the campaign against smoking on May 31, the Hellenic Cancer Society, the Ministry of Health and the American College of Greece (ACG) organized an event.

It was part of Smoke Free Greece, a nationwide campaign led by the Cancer Society’s George D. Behrakis Research Laboratory and the CAG Institute of Public Health. Behrakis is a noted Massachusetts philanthropist and anti-tobacco activist.

The program is designed to raise awareness of the dangers of smoking, particularly among schoolchildren, and to reduce smoking and was awarded first prize at the European Health Awards, with the European Commission describing it as the “information campaign on the prevention of most successful cancer in Europe”. ”

In April – some 13 years after the first of three laws banning smoking in indoor places was approved, there were signs it was still being ignored in some areas and Greece still has one of the highest smoking rates the highest in the world.

World Population Review said that for 2022, Greece ranked ninth in the world – and the highest in the 27-member European Union – for smoking, with a rate of 39.1%, just ahead of Bulgaria at 10th. rank.

In an interview with Kathimerini, Philip Morris International CEO Jacek Olczak, whose company profits from tobacco sales, said it was nonetheless a significant decrease and said it was unlikely people stop.

He said that since people will continue to smoke, the “most pragmatic approach” would be to try to get them to use products that eliminate combustion, such as e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products – what his business sells.

He admitted that these products “are not without risk and are addictive”, but said they were a “much better choice” compared to continued smoking and the still popular traditional cigarettes.

Specifically for the IQOS heated tobacco product, used by 21 million people worldwide and 360,000 in Greece, average levels of harmful chemicals are reduced by up to 95%, he said.

Along with anti-tobacco campaigns which have reduced levels – albeit not dramatically – he said he believed smoke-free alternatives were a good choice and could have a positive impact on public health.

“The application of the anti-tobacco law prohibiting all nicotine products has been widely accepted in Greek society. Ashtrays have become obsolete in restaurants and bars, and now you can drink and dine smoke-free as a rule. However, we still have a long way to go to convince people to put out that last cigarette, forever, everywhere,” he also said.

This goes against the scenes in many places in Greece where people still smoke, mostly outdoors and in small towns and villages outside of the big cities where people can be seen smoking at tables with no smoking signs.

“Thanks in part to the indoor ban – the smoking rate has almost halved from what it was a few years ago,” in Greece, he also claimed.

In 2019, six months after taking office, Mitsotakis said his government would be the first to enforce smoke-free laws in areas where it is banned, but evidence that it was being flouted in places.

At that time, the rate was said to have fallen to 27.5%, contradicting other data placing Greece 12th in the world and fewer smokers than indicated in the world population table for Greece. current year.

The Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimates the smoking rate in Greece at around 24%.

Smoking is not allowed indoors in Greece, but also in playgrounds and other outdoor spaces frequented by children and where adults are seen smoking despite this supposed ban.

The smoking ban applies to taxis, hospitals and other health care facilities, schools and universities, restaurants, cafes, concert halls, nightclubs, sports arenas and outdoor stadiums , but some outdoor summer cinemas put ashtrays on the tables, knowing that people will smoke.

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