Up until a short while ago, Skotino in the prefecture of Iraklio on Crete was known mainly for the cave that lent its name to the village, yet recently people have been talking about it for an entirely different reason following a report in local media which revealed that none of the village’s 70 residents smokes, making Skotino something of an exception in Greece.
However, the residents did not decide to give up smoking as a result of the country’s anti-smoking campaign launched a few years back, as abstinence from tobacco in the village, according to the report, dates back at least 20 years. The “habit” of not smoking has since spread from one generation to the next, with the grandchildren of the oldest residents, now adults themselves, stating that they are all nonsmokers. What’s more, as a result of clean lungs, unpolluted air and the famous Cretan diet, the residents of Skotino tend to live to a ripe old age.
Skotino is an oddity in Greece, a country where a smoking ban for certain areas introduced a few years ago has been systematically flouted by individuals and businesses alike. Maybe, though, Skotino shows us that something is slowly changing in the Greek psyche. For example, in many groups of friends, smokers now find themselves in the minority – something that was certainly not the case, say, 10 years ago.
According to official data compiled by the national committee in charge of drawing up anti-smoking measures, despite the relative failure of legislation, there has been a significant reduction in smoking among young adult men (between 46.6 and 61.9 percent). Among women, however, the rate has increased steadily from 2006 onward and now stands at around 30 percent.
The World Health Organization says that 37.6 percent of all Greek adults smoke, putting them at the top of the rankings for Western Europe. Among men, the Western European average is 34 percent and the Eastern European average is 47 percent, while among women the respective numbers are 25 percent and 20 percent.
Although it appears that smoking is on the decline in Greece (with 200,000 smokers estimated to have tried switching to electronic cigarettes as a means of kicking the habit), the state has failed to capitalize on the trend. According to the center that monitors calls relating to smoking on the 1142 Health Hotline, from early 2011 to October 2012, authorities responded to 94,140 reports regarding violations of anti-smoking laws, imposing 2,824 fines totaling 1.84 million euros. However, 62,670 of those inspections were conducted in 2011, while the other 31,470 were conducted in the first 10 months of 2012. In further proof that the inspection process lost steam soon after its launch, in the first three months of 2011 authorities conducted 25,824 checks and imposed fines of around 900,000 euros, while in the same period the following year, both inspections and fines went down by half. The Health Ministry, however, recently expressed its intention to increase the pace of inspections.