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Hold Your Breath: Greek No Smoking Law Being Ignored Again

ATHENS – As World No Tobacco Day was quietly marked in Greece – which has one one of the world’s highest rates – there are signs that a No Smoking Law finally mostly enforced is evaporating again.

The New Democracy government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis took a stab at trying to implement the law after a number of failures by previous governments, some of whom didn’t try.

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

The paper noted that the smoking ban in cafes, restaurants and bars had been touted but is now being flouted, even as anti-vaxxers who refused shots are being rewarded with the same privileges as those who got inoculated and helped beat back the pandemic.

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

That’s especially in late-night entertainment and Greece’s notorious dog singer night clubs that go wild and generally ignore any laws, especially thos regarding smoking, and get away with it.

“Restoring legality is a matter of the credibility of the institutions, but also of addressing a permanent risk to public health,” the paper said in an editorial with no sign the government would do anything but looking the other way.

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

That was part of Smoke Free Greece, a nationwide campaign by the Cancer Society’s George D. Behrakis Research Lab and the ACG’s Institute of Public Health. Behrakis is a noted Massachusetts philanthropist and anti-smoking crusader.

The program is designed to raise awareness about the dangers of smoking, especially among schoolchildren, and at reducing smoking and was given the top prize at the European Health Awards, the European Commission describing it as the “most successful cancer prevention information campaign in Europe.”

In April – some 13 years after the first of three No Smoking laws 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 in the world.

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

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

He said since people will still smoke that 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 – which his company sells.

He admitted that those products “are not risk-free and are addictive,” but said they are a “much better choice” compared to continued smoking and traditional cigarettes still popular.

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

Besides no smoking campaigns that have worked to cut the levels – but not dramatically – he said he believes that smoke-free alternatives are a good choice and can have a positive impact on public health.

“The enforcement of the anti-smoking law banning all nicotine products has gained wide acceptance in Greek society. Ashtrays have become obsolete in restaurants and bars, and now you can wine 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.

That’s at odds with scenes in many places in Greece where smoking is still going on, primarily at outdoor seating and in smaller cities and towns outside the major cities where you can see people smoking at tables with No Smoking signs.

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

In 2019, half a year after taking office, Mitsotakis said his government would be the first to enforce No Smoking laws in areas where it’s prohibited but evidence it was being flouted in places.

At that time it was said the rate fell to 27.5 percent, at odds with other data putting Greece 12th in the world and less smoking that indicated in the World Population chart for the current year.

The Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) puts Greece’s smoking rate at about some 24 percent.

Smoking is prohibited indoors in Greece but also in playgrounds and other open-air areas which are frequented by children and where adults are seen smoking despite that alleged prohibition.

The smoking ban applies to taxis, hospitals and other health care facilities, schools and universities, restaurants, coffee shops, live music venues, and nightclubs and sports arenas and open air stadiums but some open air summer cinemas put ashtrays on tables, knowing people will smoke.

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