By George Psyllides
THE number of tobacco smokers is going up in Cyprus because of the economic crisis, officials said yesterday, but at the same time others are seeking help to kick the habit because they cannot afford to buy cigarettes.
“The crisis is not only interpreted in terms of economic stringency, having the money to buy smokes, but it also pushes you to smoke as a means of relieving stress,” said Petros Agathangelou, chairman of the island’s cardiological association.
Agathangelou expressed concern that the number of smokers will rise; it is a difficult turning point and a strong effort must be made to prevent this trend.
But for some at least, the financial crunch appears to have some health benefits.
Despite the rise in the number of smokers, one of the reasons cited by those visiting help clinics was difficulty in affording cigarettes. The price of cigarettes and tobacco has doubled in the last two years.
Some 348 people sought help from the state to quit smoking in the past 11 months, Health Minister Philippos Patsalis said, three times the number compared with 2012.
The clinics have recently been reinforced with additional personnel and their operation has been extended to all districts.
Just over 38 per cent men in Cyprus are smokers while the percentage of women who smoke reached 10.5 per cent.
A large number of people with heart problems in Cyprus quits smoking at first but then resume the habit, raising threefold the chances of suffering a fatal attack within the next 10 years compared to those who quit.
In Cyprus, 23.5 per cent of people who have suffered a heart attack continue to smoke, compared with Europe’s 17.2 per cent.
Smoking kills some 650,000 people in Europe each year – 80,000 from second hand smoke, EU authorities claim. In Cyprus, in 2012 there were 2,112 deaths from heart disease, 394 from respiratory ailments, and 932 from neoplasms, all tobacco-related.
The figures were given at a press conference yesterday held to announce an anti-smoking campaign on the occasion of the International No Smoking Day on May 31.
A bill that provides for stricter penalties for smoking in public places has been submitted to the state legal service for processing.
It allows authorities to close establishments violating the law, as well as on the spot fines of up to €850.
However, observers point out that the problem in Cyprus is the enforcement of current legislation, which is widely flouted with impunity.
MPs have also been known to smoke in parliament.
Police said they have carried out 7,500 inspections from the beginning of the year until the end of April, issuing 1,378 on the spot fines and booking 1,436 people.