Some General Thoughts

“What would a visitor from another world conclude about the mental capacity of the dominant species on our planet that failed to fight the #1, yet preventable, cause of premature mortality: active and passive tobacco smoking”?
It was this question that Brian MacMahon - the legendary Harvard epidemiologist - once posed to his audience in an effort to trigger them and make them contemplate about the problem.

Sadly, the biggest weight of this implicit criticism would be applied on the shoulders of Greeks, since according to WHO’s report: The Greek Tobacco Epidemics, they managed to slip from the top to the middle of the life expectancy ranking, largely on account of their persistently poor smoking habits.

One of the most remarkable facts is that except for cigarette smoke, no other product with such direct consequences to human health is legally manufactured and sold in the developed world. Tobacco smoke is the reason that more than 7 million people worldwide die prematurely every single year! In addition to premature death, tobacco use is associated with a variety of disease and disability, resulting in decreased quality of life and high social costs, including costs of medical care and lost economic productivity.

It should be said that smoking not only constitutes a burden for individual smokers, it also is a major risk factor for passive smokers - those who are exposed to secondhand smoke despite their will. Young children of smokers are especially at risk from their parents’ smoke, as well as secondhand smoke in public places. 600K people die every year from being exposed to secondhand smoke. Tragic, isn’t it?

The Case of Greece

The Greek governments has periodically shown strong interest in developing and executing a long-term strategic plan for tobacco control in Greece. In the beginning of 2006, Greece ratified the World Health Organization Framework Convention for Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), which requires participating countries to implement measures to reduce tobacco use. This is particularly noteworthy considering the high smoking prevalence in Greece compared with other EU countries as well as the rest of the world.

More recently, in a trial to fight the phenomenon of smoke addiction as well as the totally harmful effects on the population as a whole, Greek Ministry of Health delivered a bulletin in order to tighten the controls as well as fines that are associated with smoke related products.

However, as most of us know, the anti-smoking Law in Greece unfortunately has been remained without real implications regarding its effectiveness. Greek smokers consist about 40% of the population in Greece and hold the 3rd position worldwide and the 2st among EU countries. Greek women remain the world’s leading smokers, continuing smoking even during pregnancy.

According to WHO, despite the previous decline in tobacco consumption as a result of strict laws and heavy bans on those smoking in specific spaces, smoking is on the rise again, but this time in developing countries. It’s most recent research findings show that, of the 1 billion smokers in the world today, about 80% are to be found in developing countries.

Smoking Control

The question is:
Why Greeks seem to ignore the laws?

There is a variety of reasons that could make Greek people seem inexorable regarding their respect to the state laws against smoking and more importantly, to their fellow citizens.
Specifically, one of the main reasons that lead Greeks to receive the laws of the state as simple writings on paper without real implications is the unwillingness as well as incapability of the Greek state to fully apply the law(s) through a complete, strict and unprejudiced control mechanism.

Municipality of Athens for instance, said that because of personnel deficit, they cannot execute controls regarding smoking in inappropriate places, except for that cases that someone denounce – through a hotline for this reason - specific facts. However, these complaints are not so many, which makes us wonder about the trust that exist between Greek state and its citizens.

The second more important reason that make antismoking law disable seem to be the general concept/ mindset that some Greek people have. Specifically, politicians are reluctant to argue with business owners complaining that their livelihood depended on placating a paying majority of smoking patrons. If we add the economic crisis that hit Greece into that reluctance, it is almost sure that the issue may only become worse.

Continuing, one of the major aspects that have to be updated completely is the mindset of the average Greek citizen. To make it clear, the longer the idea that “I can smoke my cigarettes wherever I choose” holds on, the probability of a country that one can find smoke-free public places, restaurants & cafes will be getting away.

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eCig as the Solution to the Problem

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