Czech Republic failing to curb smoking

Foto: Štěpánka Budková

While western European countries slowly take strong measures against smoking, including outright bans in public places, countries such as the Czech Republic are struggling to make meaningful reductions, while anti-smoking legislation remains stalled. Meanwhile, new figures suggest that more and more Czechs are lighting up.

The National Health Institute has just released new figures that underline the problem that the country faces in stemming the tide of smoking in the Czech Republic. In fact, the figures show that in the last decade, the number of smokers in the country has actually grown. A decade ago, 26.2 percent of Czechs smoked, according to the figures – last year, that number had grown slightly to 26.6 percent.

The number of youngsters who smoke has also increased – in 1994, 5.8 percent of fifteen year-olds smoked, by 2006, the figure had risen to 8.4 percent. Even younger smokers are also continuing to light up – in 2006, 8.4 percent of thirteen year-olds smoked a cigarette at least once a week – in 1994 that figure was 5.8 percent. Conversely, the figures also suggest that smoking cigarettes per se is losing favour among Czech youngsters, while smoking tobacco through a bong or water-pipe is becoming increasingly popular.

On May 31, the world will mark No Tobacco Day, but these figures clearly leave the Czech Republic with very little to celebrate. However, there is some cause for optimism. Opinion polls suggest that two-thirds of Czechs would like to see the government ban smoking in public places – though the government has made very little progress in this area. Proposed legislation to outlaw public smoking in line with countries such as Britain and numerous states in the US, has so far come to nothing. Meanwhile, countries such as Britain are upping the fight with new proposals to ban the public display of cigarettes in shops.

In fact, the latest Czech proposals are a significant step backwards – the creation of special smoking areas in pubs and restaurants. There has been some speculation as to what exactly these smoking areas would be – perhaps special isolated booths or newly-constructed outdoor rooms – no-one seems to know. Meanwhile, the single measure that has been approved by the government is the continued increase in duties to be paid on cigarettes. At present, a packet of cigarettes in the Czech Republic costs around sixty crowns – the same packet in Britain costs around 178 crowns – and prices are expected to continue to rise.

Clearly, smoking in the Czech Republic remains primarily a cultural issue. While other countries have shown that with strict legislation, even smokers have gotten used to smoke-free pubs, regardless of the cultural argument. But the Czech government, perhaps wary of a backlash by the public as well as from pro-smoking lobbies remains painfully slow in joining the anti-smoking bandwagon.