More awareness of smoking peril

There has been a distinct change of attitude toward smoking over the past few years in Greece. This year, World No Tobacco Day (May 31), found Greeks a little bit more aware of the damage cigarettes can cause to themselves and those around them, and saw an increase in the number of smokers seeking help to quit smoking completely, or at least cut down. Reducing the number of smokers in Greece – currently 45 percent of the population over 15, according to Eurostat – is a gargantuan task, one which experts say relies heavily on the enforcement by the Health Ministry of measures restricting smoking in public spaces. Athens University Professor of Pulmonary and Intensive Care Medicine Haralambos Roussos notes that «smoking is the biggest epidemic ever experienced in the world.» The number of victims of smoking-related illnesses cannot be compared to any other epidemic. Cigarettes kill over 4 million people a year – one person every eight seconds – while it is estimated that by 2030, annual tobacco-related deaths will have reached 10 million, with the greatest increases in developing countries. «One in two teenagers who begins and continues to smoke will die because of the habit after having lost 15-20 years of life; lung cancer due to smoking is the leading form of fatal cancer and the medical community is unable to deal with it,» he said. According to Roussos, efforts are being made worldwide to combat smoking. «In Greece, people have become much more aware of the need to quit smoking over the past few years and appear to understand that even if they themselves want to die, the person next to them doesn’t. Smoking Cessation Clinics are opening up around the country, reflecting the change in society’s views. «The same change is also being noted in the medical community. We see doctors looking ashamed when they are looking for a place to secretly go and have a smoke. Even Evangelismos Hospital, which two or three years ago could have been described as a veritable ashtray, is now smoke-free because most doctors are too ashamed to smoke.» Roussos attributes this change of climate to a combination of better education and fear of penalties since legislation now bans smoking in specific areas. However, the Health Ministry bans are not being enforced to the degree that they ought to be, or, where they were initially enforced, have become somewhat lax. «Measures of this kind,» notes the professor, «which have to do with changing citizens’ behavior toward a long-established habit, need constant reminders, and not only in Greece. Change does not happen overnight. It takes constant effort and you have to find a way to slip the message into people’s minds. What’s important is that we are on the right track, though it’s obvious that it will be a long process.» Roussos suggests setting up a national coordination committee for anti-smoking action to coordinate efforts, help manage relevant funds, collect data on the number of smokers, smoking-related mortalities, trends in smoking-related illnesses and the financial effects of smoking, and introduce a legal commission to monitor legislative measures and their enforcement. Another Athens University professor, Christina Gratsiou, who is also in charge of the Smoking Cessation Clinic of the Evgenidion Hospital, notes that «people are paying attention to anti-smoking campaigns and making the decision to make the step. «There are currently 31 Smoking Cessation Clinics in Greece, 12 of which are located in the capital, and they all have a waiting list. At the Evgenidion, we have had approximately 1,500 applications and a 60 percent success rate. The average age of applicants is 40 and they are all very heavy smokers. There are no differences between men and women. Their main motive in wanting to quit isn’t so much fear for their health as the fact that they have become aware of their addiction and want to be good role models for their families.» Giving up tobacco is no easy matter, depending almost entirely on the will power and perseverance of the smoker. Some 70 percent of smokers have expressed the desire to quit, yet just 20-30 percent actually take steps to do so each year, and of these, only 3-5 percent actually succeed. The program includes counseling and medical treatment strictly monitored by doctors.