26th Oct 2016

Europeans cannot shake suicidal habit

  • Table at Greek cafe: Greeks smoke the most in the EU (Photo: Kino Praxis)

It killed 695,000 people in the EU last year. But despite restaurant bans and gruesome health labels, the number of smokers is hardly going down.

A European Commission survey published for the UN's international anti-smoking day on Thursday (31 May) shows that 28 percent of the EU population smokes today compared to 29 percent in 2009.

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The number is still going up in the Czech Republic, Finland and Slovenia.

Another 21 percent say they used to smoke but gave up.

The typical smoker's profile is unflattering: it is the most prevalent among young men aged 15 to 54 who left school early and who are unemployed and broke.

Hellenic societies have a special problem.

Not only do 40 percent of Greeks (the highest in the EU) and 30 percent of Cypriots smoke, they consume more than anybody else: Greek smokers have 21 cigarettes a day on average, Cypriot ones have 27.

Austria, Hungary, Latvia, Poland, Romania and Spain also come up red in a map attached to the survey. Italy and Portugal stand out as low-smokers in the Mediterranean region.

Health commissioner John Dalli, from Malta (a heavy consumer), said on Wednesday he will in autumn toughen up the EU's 11-year-old Tobacco Products Directive, which governs nicotine levels and health warnings on packets.

He added that he is "deeply concerned" about cigarettes' appeal to young people.

The numbers come despite anti-smoking measures at national level and public support for tobacco austerity.

Sixty four percent want cigarettes hidden out of sight in shops. Fifty three percent say there should be higher taxes on them.

Another 73 percent would be happy to pay more for security devices to curb smuggling.

According to a 2011 report by the EU's joint police body, Europol, cigarette smuggling into the EU is worth €10 billion a year.

A recent BBC investigation noted that Milo Djukanovic - the former leader of Montenegro, who put the country on the path to EU membership - did it while part of a cigarette-smuggling "mafia" worth hundreds of millions of euros a year.

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