Sale of cigarettes to minors a continuing problem in Czech Republic
Smoking among youth in the Czech Republic continues to be a major problem, with studies showing that the number of those in grades seven to nine who have experience with cigarettes is as high as 70 percent. Of that, some already smoke more than 11 cigarettes daily. Observers also say the age at which children begin first experimenting with tobacco is dropping, as low as the age of ten or eleven. In the Czech Republic it is against the law for anyone to sell tobacco products to minors, but the reality is that all too often sellers are willing to turn a blind eye and fail to ask for ID.
According to the most recent numbers released by STEM in November, one-tenth of Czech tobacconists admitted to knowingly turning a blind eye when it came to selling to children who looked under the age of 15, while almost one-half were willing to sell to youths who looked under 18. Getting tobacco in the Czech Republic, even if you’re under age, is indeed not complicated, something confirmed by students at one prominent Prague high school we visited this week:
“If somebody wants to smoke and get cigarettes, it’s very easy, it’s no problem. You go and you can get what you want.”
“When a buyer is around 17 or close to 18 I think it doesn’t really matter whether shop assistants ask for ID or not.”
“It’s really, really easy to get cigarettes but I think the problem is not in the law. The problem has more to do with families. Those who are 16 or 17 should be educated or prepared at home. Not by the state or by a law.”
“We organized this conference as a first historic attempt to ‘map’ the situation regarding the continued sale of tobacco to minors and to see the law in practice.”
“It is a bit of a strange situation because the sanctions are relatively high, especially for owners of selling facilities, but it’s not very effective because some institutions are qualified to check youngsters, others are qualified to fine the sellers and it doesn’t work in everyday life. The main responsibility lies with municipalities and local police and they don’t feel any special pressure to ask or to enforce controls. This is exactly the direction where future legislation should go: to foster the role of local police and the role of municipalities, towns and villages.”
Until that happens, says Jan Hartl, the situation is unlikely to change:
“It’s not a big risk to those people: our survey shows that new legislation and new activities and initiative and a new method of fining such actions, the number of sellers willing to sell to minors would be lower. Let’s hope that future, more consistent legislation will move closer to meet the expectations of the ‘man on the street’.”
“In Most, the town hall together with schools and municipal police decided to cooperate together last spring on reducing the number of underage smokers near schools and other public areas. They began checking youths’ ID in such areas and sent letters to families and schools in cases where children were caught smoking. So far, they have judged the project a success, enough to have continued a new cycle in the autumn, spreading to areas such as local parks, railway stations and bus stations, and other areas where minors are known to smoke.”
“In general, it’s true that the age at which children begin to experiment has dropped. In recent years, we organized an extensive preventative program called Paragraph 155 which was put together for fifth and sixth graders at elementary schools. The program aimed to show the risks of smoking as well as risks for those who provide minors with cigarettes. In short, it was a program aimed at both sides of the problem: keeping kids from smoking, but also making sure the law was upheld.
“No such program can ever replace the family of course. The parents’ role can not be replaced. There, it is important to stress how much our own behavior has an impact. How children see their parents but also how their teachers behave of course influences their own approach.”