May 31st is the International No Smoking Day and to mark the occasion several international organisations as well as national government agencies are planning events to mark the day and launch or relaunch their anti-smoking campaigns.
They wish to encourage people to quit the bad habit of smoking and to draw people’s attention to its addictive nature and its detrimental effect on human health, by highlighting grave figures such as the estimation that smoking kills 650,000 people per year in Europe, of which 80,000 die due to passive smoking, while the number worldwide is believed to be around 4.9 million per year. Furthermore, they stress that one in six adults is expected to die of smoking every year by 2030.
The World Health Organisation has issued recommendations aiming at preventing and reducing smoking, which the national authorities in each country use as the guidelines to develop their own action frameworks. Particular emphasis is placed in most western countries on strict penalties for smoking in public places, the advancement of a smoke-free environment and the encouragement of current smokers to quit via state funded programmes, mainly consisting of medically assisted methods to stop the smoking addiction in dedicated clinics.
However it appears that another significant factor to be taken into account when exploring people’s attitude towards smoking is the world financial crisis. The crisis appears to have impacted smoking in contradictory ways. On the one hand the rising tobacco prices coupled with the steep decrease in the disposable income of smokers in most countries where the crisis has hit hard, has forced people to seek help in order to quit because they can no longer sustain the high cost of maintaining the habit and their addiction.
On the other hand, it is also evident that the increased stress levels caused by financial hardship, unemployment, social seclusion and other aspects of the global economic crisis have pushed many people to try to find some sort of pleasure, release or comfort in a cigarette, thus increasing the number of new smokers, as well as the daily consumption of existing ones.
Indicative of this trend is the fact that in Cyprus, a small EU island that made headlines last year when its economy reached the verge of collapse and an unprecedented haircut on deposits was imposed to save the country’s banking system, officials have announced an increase in smoking numbers, meaning that currently in Cyprus 38.1% of men and 10.5% of women smoke, despite the increase in price of cigarettes and tobacco products imposed by the government in the form of a tax to increase its revenues. Interestingly enough, it was also revealed that Cyprus holds first place in the EU for smoking and also for smoking-related cardiac arrests, while cardiac patients in Cyprus defy the risks and 23.5% of them continue to smoke after a heart-related incident, while in Europe only 17.2% do so.