OPINION

Greeks still living in the clouds

I don’t know about you, but personally I feel very uncomfortable when I’m sitting in my plush movie theater chair in the dark and am bombarded by tobacco ads. Are there any movie theaters in the old EU that would allow such a thing? In Greece, when it comes to smoking bans, we are just starting with the basics. As Health Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos recently said, we will be imposing laws against selling cigarettes to minors. What a radical reform. That’s great, even though kiosks and giant roadside billboards advertise cigarettes everywhere. Greece really is the last El Dorado for tobacco companies and advertising agencies. In Greece, things take time. According to recent public opinion polls, Greeks have become more tolerant of smoking bans. Gone are the days when Greeks could drive an airline stewardess crazy by lighting up in the toilet, or when they were chased around airports because they couldn’t wait to fire up a cigarette while their luggage came down the conveyor belt. This all seems to belong to the past. It takes a while, but we eventually get there. Naturally, we still like to make fun of Americans and their «anti-smoking hysteria» (while we ourselves are so correct on every other front), but after seeing the Italians conform, we have begun to wonder whether there may be something to this smoking ban thing after all. Trying to find a smoke-free environment is a problem. In most Athenian restaurants (not to mention tavernas or cafes, where a non-smoker doesn’t stand a chance of avoiding the haze) non-smoking areas have either disappeared completely or are constantly shrinking. At a restaurant on Metsovou Street I was recently politely reprimanded for not making it clear beforehand that the reservation was for a non-smoking table so that they could have kept the minuscule non-smoking area free of smoking clientele. For all the distance that separates Athens from Rome and London on the etiquette of smoking (among many other things), some progress has nevertheless been made. The progress, however, has been at a basic level. Even our health minister told us that we are relearning the ABCs, as if the entire issue has not been debated before, as if thousands of Greeks have not been abroad and felt the difference. We know the world is changing, advancing around us. Just as it took us a while to get wired to the Internet in our homes and to understand that a cohabitation agreement simply acknowledges an existing situation and solves many practical problems, so it is taking us a while to understand that we can’t just light up wherever and whenever we feel like it. Meanwhile, kiosks continue to proudly sport their tobacco ads and cinemas play long commercials, reminding us that we are living in a developing nation.