Experts on smoking say health care systems need to cover costs to help fight tobacco dependency

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If you're one of those who has to light a cigarette within the first thirty minutes after getting out of bed in the morning and if the mere sound of a cigarette being lit instantly improves your mood and makes your heart beat faster, then it's high time for you to visit your local smoking cessation centre. This, according to Czech-born medical psychologist Petr Hajek - one of the world's leading experts on tobacco-dependency research. Dr Hajek, who now resides in the United Kingdom, visited Prague on Thursday to lecture fellow colleagues, the media, and Czech politicians in Parliament on how to treat tobacco dependency and the role the state can play in it.

In the Czech Republic, nearly every third person over the age of 15 smokes; of those between 15-18 years, it almost reaches the 40 percent mark. Dita Asiedu spoke to Dr. Eva Kralikova, a leading Czech specialist in smoking related diseases and substitution therapy, shortly after the lecture:

"At this moment, the Czech health care system does not cover the costs of treatment for tobacco dependency. Even though we have smoking cessation clinics, they are not included in the treatment part of medicine. So, we are basically starting at zero."

And how many centres that treat tobacco dependency can be found here in the Czech Republic?

"We have about fifty smoking cessation clinics but they are mostly for consulting. It's not treatment in the real sense. You can find their addresses on the web under www.dokurte.cz."

Are there so few centres because of a lack of money?

"Well, fifty centres is not a bad number but what we need is centres in the frame of hospitals and the health care system. This has to be changed and we should keep prevention, which is absolutely necessary, separate from treatment and start treatment in the real clinical sense. It is like consultation about obesity or treatment of obesity. Those are two different things. So, we should treat this kind of dependence."

What are some of the myths of advantages of smoking? Smokers say they weigh less than non-smokers, they are more productive at work, and can solve more demanding tasks. How much truth is there in that?

"As far as the weight is concerned, they are right. Smokers do weigh a few kilos less than non-smokers do. The other claims are incorrect. Smoking does not mean stress solving or any other advantage."

What about the illnesses that are caused by smoking? What percentage of the population has them?

"About one-fifth of all death cases in this country. Eighteen thousand people die here every year because they smoke. On average, the smokers lose 15 years of life. As far as the diseases are concerned, it is my favourite game to ask medical students to find a branch in medicine where you see that smoking does not cause any illnesses. Until today, it has not been discovered. Smoking is connected with most illnesses, especially diabetes or leukaemia or any other osteoporosis."