ATHENS – Unable – by education or enforcement – to get Greeks to stop smoking in public places, the new New Democracy’s vow to enforce a long-ignored prohibition will succeed, said an expert who’s been fighting the same battle for years.
Dr. Panagiotis Behrakis, Director of the Institute of Public Health at the American College of Greece, who is heading a council overseeing the government’s anti-smoking campaign, said he believes Greek society is ready for a full enforcement of the ban, after polls showed 76 percent are upset the law isn’t being enforced.
“When a newly elected Prime Minister, with an overwhelming majority, clearly prioritizes the issue and expresses strong will for the universal implementation of the law, there is no chance of losing. For the first time, I am optimistic. After all, the conditions have matured,” he told Kathimerini.
He said there’s signs of progress – despite anecdotal evidence showing New Democracy’s tough stand, including to send police to enforce the law is being disregarded. Behrakis said there’s a change in mentality among the young, fewer people smoking in a country with one of the highest rates in the European Union and the world, and a smoking ban at private companies, although he acknowledged high-ranking officials smoke where they want with impunity.
“Public sector workers and senior officials continued to smoke at work,” he told the paper and there’s no signs yet that’s been stopped although the government said its crusade would begin in Parliament, where lawmakers and staff openly smoke in defiance of the law.
“Top government officials should not be permitted to break the law without losing their positions. They have vowed to abide by the laws of the state, they are… responsible for the implementation of those provisions. If they violates them, they have no right to remain in the government,” he said but there’s not been a single report any of them have been punished.
Former alternate health minister Pavlos Polakis – a chain smoking surgeon – lit up a cigarettee at a No Smoking Day conference inside the ministry and no one made a move to stop him. He did the same at a nightclub and then told the European Union’s health chief who criticized him to mind his own business, vowing to smoke where he wanted and when he wanted.
Behrakis said that the smoking ban should be a topic of consensus, not of dispute. “With the active input of all stakeholders, we will succeed in enforcing the law if they understand the following: We are not persecuting smokers; we are simply protecting non-smokers.”
He said inspections and fines are needed, but they will never replace the essence of the problem, which is mutual respect, an approach that hasn’t worked yet.