In 2009, Greece had the highest rate of smoking in all of Europe. A few years later and the trend has been reversed. Indeed, while almost 42% of Greeks smoked cigarettes in 2009, in 2017 the number dropped to 27.1%. Between 2007 and 2016, the number of cigarettes consumed in Greece was reduced by almost half, going from 35.1 billion to 17.9 billion.
Until recently, the fight against tobacco saw mixed results. The ban on smoking in public spaces, announced in Greece in 2002, was never really applied. In 2014, the vice health minister even reported cases of people smoking in healthcare facilities.
As the reduction in cigarettes far exceeds and possible effects of Greece’s anti-tobacco campaigns, the turnaround is likely linked to the country’s financial crisis.
Financial reasons a major reason for fewer smokers
The financial crisis has been raging in Greece for many years now, and has affected the population’s quality of life considerably. Greeks have thus had to prioritize spending for essentials, and tobacco does not seem to be a top priority.
While older people are smoking fewer cigarettes, fewer and fewer young people even start smoking. As the sociologist Aliki Mouriki says, the choice not to smoke isn’t necessarily related to health concerns, but economic ones.
Nonetheless, Panagiotis Behrakis, an anti-tobacco activist in Europe, is happy to see fewer people smoking in Greece. And if Greeks still smoke more cigarettes than other Europeans. Behrakis only “thinks it’s a matter of time” before Greece’s rates of tobacco consumption reach standard European levels.