Half the Greek population is still smoking despite ad bans

It can’t be advertised on television or on the radio, in newspapers or magazines nor over the Internet, and soon roadside billboards advertising tobacco are to be taken down. A Health Ministry warning on cigarette packets that the habit is «bad for your health» has been replaced by clear references to specific risks. At the same time, «no smoking» signs are being seen more and more frequently in the workplace, often leading to arguments among staff (apart from civil services, where it appears that only the public are not allowed to smoke). Yet Greeks seem to be resisting all attempts to wean them off their dependency on tobacco. According to a National Statistics Service survey of expenditures on and the consumption of cigarettes as part of a general survey on family budgets for 2004-2005, tobacco product sales have risen by 10 percent over the past 10 years. Unfortunately, younger people make up a large percentage of this increase. Of all Greeks aged over 14, smokers make up 41.7 percent (32 percent of women and 52.2 percent of men). Fifty percent of the 25-54 age group are either occasional or habitual smokers (two-thirds are men). Over a third of those aged under 25 are regular smokers, but most smokers are concentrated in the 35-44 age group (59.1 percent), and most women smokers are between 25 and 34. The rising increase among women, in fact, accounts for a large part of the general increase. Teenagers The most worrying findings of the survey concern teenagers who smoke – 27.5 percent of 18-year-olds, 14.4 percent of 17-year-olds, 14.1 percent of 16-year-olds, 10.1 percent of 15-year-olds and 8.3 percent of 14-year-olds. Most Greeks smoke more than 16 cigarettes a day, and spend about 720 euros a year on cigarettes. According to a STAT Bank survey, in 2002 Greeks smoked just 3,010 cigarettes a day, now the number is almost 6,000. According to a major tobacco company executive, the ban on advertising tobacco products in the media has created a black market image around cigarettes, so the firms have found other ways to get the message across, chiefly by promoting their products in cafes and bars by giving away free samples. According to the Greek Advertising and Communications Code, no marketing of tobacco products may target juveniles, and samples can only be given to adults. However, marketing sources say consumers are often approached by company representatives who do not ask the consumers’ age. «There are firms which restrict themselves to areas where there are only people aged over 18. However, there are others who hire four or five girls to hand out packets to customers at a cafe or bar,» the tobacco executive said. Nevertheless, this form of marketing is apparently not nearly as effective as printed advertisements. Still, the tobacco companies have not seen their profits decline. According to the balance sheet of the Papastratos tobacco company, the turnover of business in 2004, after subtracting the special consumption tax, was 502 million euros, up from 392 million the previous year. Gross profits and revenues reached 85.3 million euros in 2004, up from 56.1 in 2003. Karelia’s sales rose to 432 million euros in 2005, up from 410 million in 2004, a 5.37 percent increase. Net profits after deducting taxes rose by 13.7 percent over the previous year to 32.3 million euros. «The truth is that we have not been particularly affected by the anti-smoking campaign,» said another executive. «Consumers have even got used to seeing the Health Ministry warning on the packets.» It appears that responsibility for a reduction in the habit has been transferred from the state to the tobacco companies. Papastratos for example, a subsidiary of Philip Morris International, in an attempt to get young people to stop smoking, handed out 7,000 brochures to retail outlets last year. According to the company, the state must set a minimum age for the sale of tobacco products, something that is in place in over half of the countries in the world.

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