It's been a year since a new smoking law went into effect banning smoking in public places such as schools, cinemas, state administration offices and bus and tram platforms. Despite the fact that you now see fewer people smoking in public places smoking still kills 18 thousand Czechs every year and a disturbingly high number of young people are taking up the habit.
The attitude to smoking is gradually changing. Just a few years ago politicians thought nothing of lighting up during a television interview and ashtrays only disappeared from Prague Castle when the former president Vaclav Havel was forced to quit smoking after undergoing lung surgery. Today politicians still smoke - but they now hide their bad habit from the cameras and the number of actors who smoke in Czech films has dropped considerably. Gradually smoking is becoming perceived as a bad habit - even by smokers themselves. Although 80 percent of them want to quit -somehow they can't seem to get round to it. Dr. Eva Kralikova is one of the country's leading experts on smoking-related illnesses and she claims that the low price of cigarettes is one of the key factors in the fight against smoking :
"The price of cigarettes should really be much higher. We still do not have the minimum level of tobacco taxes required by the EU. That will happen next year. For an average salary today you can buy twice as many boxes of cigarettes as you could with an average salary fifteen years ago."
As of next year the price of a packet of cigarettes is expected to go up by an average 10 crowns. That's less than doctors has hoped for. They proposed that the price of a packet should double - but it is seen as a move in the right direction. Dr. Kralikova hopes that teenagers in particular will be put off by the higher price of cigarettes. Although the number of smoking-related deaths has dropped from 22,000 to 18,000 in the last five years, the number of people who take up smoking has not changed. A poll among the country's 15 -18 year olds indicates that 45 percent of them smoke - and surprisingly a greater number of girls than boys. Dr. Kralikova says that for those who really want to quit there will be an effective new drug on the market in the coming spring:
"The substance is variniclin and it is a partial antagonist to certain types of nicotine receptors in the brain. It has been on the US market since July of this year, it has no substantial side-effects and it works. Of course there is no 100 percent guarantee but it seems to be the most effective drug we ever had."