Greek smoking ban ineffective

Mega-ashtray underneath cigarette advert, with a health warning. Athens, 2008. [rg photos/Flickr]

Nearly nine years after it became law, Greece is still struggling to implement a smoking ban in public spaces.

According to the latest Eurobarometer survey in 2009, Greeks used to smoke more than anyone else in Europe.

The proportion of smokers in Greece was 42%, followed by Bulgaria (39%), Latvia (37%), Romania, Hungary, Lithuania, the Czech Republic and Slovakia (all 36%).

In Greece, six out of ten working respondents said they were exposed to smoke at their workplace on a daily basis.

According to a World Health Organisation report, Greece’s compliance with the smoke-free environments framework is quite poor.

On a scale of 0-10, where scores 8 and above describe high compliance and below 5 low compliance, Greece’s performance is 3.

In particular, the reports notes that the country’s compliance in cafes, bars, restaurant is from 0 to 2.

The legislation exists

In 2002, a new law prohibiting smoking in public and private workplaces, in transport, in hospitals and other healthcare facilities as educational institutions was enacted.

However, the legislation was of little consequence, as exceptions were repeatedly granted to workplaces to allow continued smoking.

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A new law was then adopted in 2008 that prohibited smoking (and consumption of tobacco products in other ways) in all workplaces (including private), taxis and ferries as well as in all enclosed public places (including bars and restaurants).

Just before the date when the smoking ban would enter into force (1 July 2009) the EU’s Immigration Commissioner, who was then the Health Minister, Dimitris Avramopoulos, stressed that “now the hard part begins”.

“This is a change that will bring things upside down,” he noted, warning though that powerful economic interests would put pressure on the ministry against the implementation of the law, but he was not willing to back down.

George Papandreou, a former premier, tried to enforce the implementation of the law. He was also awarded the Quadriga prize for his efforts to ban smoking during times of economic crisis.

But since then, nothing has changed, despite the fact that a majority of smokers (62%) find the smoking ban positive.

A vast majority of bars and restaurants owners are not abiding by the law.

According to the legislation, in clubs or bars of over 300 square metres, the smoking area can be 40% of the total area of the premises. The separation from the rest of the establishment must be carried by partitions at least two metres.

But owners have not taken such measures and the Greek authorities remain silent.

High cost for the state

Dr Philipos Philippidis, a lecturer at the School of Public Health at London’s Imperial College, said last week that the economic crisis, fear of the political cost of a ban and the influence of the tobacco industry had paralysed the implementation of anti-smoking laws.

Philippidis estimated that only the direct (not indirect) annual cost of smoking for the Greek health system reaches €3.4 billion.

He also spoke in favor of further tax increases on cigarettes, believing it to be the most effective way to reduce smoking.

The physician called on the cash-strapped Greek government to look for revenue by raising taxes to €2 per package, a move that “would save 1,200-2,400 people from death annually”.

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He also strongly criticised authorities for the fact that in 2015, no fines for smoking violations were collected and insisted that Greek people were exposed to passive smoking in restaurants, bars, workplaces, etc. more than any other European country.

“A well known” situation

The regulation of smoke-free environments is a national competence. The only existing legislation is the Council Recommendation of 2009 on smoke-free environments, which calls on member states to introduce comprehensive measures to protect citizens from second-hand smoke.

EU sources told that the Commission regularly monitors and discusses the matter in the context of the Expert Group on Tobacco Policy and has published in 2013 an implementation report on the subject area.

“It is well known that Greece, while having a rather strong legislation on smoke-free environments, faces problem with the implementation of its law […] this has also been pointed out in the implementation report on Council Recommendation of 2009 as well as in a recent assessment of SFP,” EU sources noted, adding that the Commission is raising such issues with national authorities at appropriate occasions, but “has no legal possibilities to enforce the implementation of the Council Recommendation”.

Syriza to take another” initiative

The Ministry of Health issued a statement on World No Tobacco Day (31 May), saying that the harmful effects of smoking are scientifically proven and undeniable.

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“The percentage of smokers in our country still remains very high despite the decline in recent years of an average 37% (40% men and 34% women).”

The ministry also noted that secondhand smoke was a serious public health problem and stressed that all means for the effective implementation of existing legislation should be utilised.

It also recognised that over time, efforts for effective and consistent smoking ban “were not successful”, promising though that it is planning to take relevant initiatives for the implementation of the smoking ban legislation.

Asked by when it was planning to take such initiatives, ministry sources replied “soon”.

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