WHO’s No Tobacco Day?

All change for Bulgaria’s smokers

So, there I was, going through online news this morning, with a cup of fresh coffee and enjoying my first cigarette of the day, when I came across an item about today being World No Tobacco Day. Ah!

This World Health Organisation (WHO) initiative was established back in 1987, and the target theme for 2012 “will focus on the need to expose and counter the tobacco industry’s brazen and increasingly aggressive attempts to undermine global tobacco control efforts.” [1]

Well and good! We are all aware to some extent that smoking hits our pockets, our personal well-being, people around us, and the environment in general – even at the level of littering our streets with dead fag-ends.

So, caught out – what should I do? Put out my cigarette, and not have any more all day? What would that achieve, apart from making me grumpy, and especially if (as is most likely) I lit up again tomorrow?

What’s so special about tomorrow, 1st. June, 2012?

In Bulgaria, amendments to the Health Act come into force. The principal target is smoking in enclosed public places. The prime effect is that it will now be illegal to smoke inside a restaurant or café; outside, OK, as long as it’s not close to a school yard or playground.

Surveys carried out at the start of the year reported that 56% of respondents were against a total ban; over 75% (including 70% non-smokers) thought the ban would have a detrimental effect on the restaurant business. Some 3% of smokers had quit in 2011, and a further 10% intended to give up, probably on or after 1st. June. Almost 80% reckoned the regulation would not be effectively enforced everywhere.

Bulgaria has the second highest percentage of smokers in the EU, second only to Greece (does that still apply, I wonder, given the economic woes afflicting our neighbours?). 46% of male adults are smokers (women do slightly better), and 55% of Bulgarians aged 26−40 smoke. Average consumption is estimated at 15 cigarettes per day. (Honestly, Doctor!)

So, today’s dilemma was nothing compared with what faces me from tomorrow. For example, we have a favourite small restaurant nearby; inside, there are segregated areas for smokers and no-smokers, in accordance with the current law. We are totally free to smoke at the tables outside. But – the premises are in the corner of a public park frequented by many dog-walkers, joggers and families out for an evening stroll. About 50 metres away, there’s a kids’ playground. I suspect we may be in for a sharp shock the next time we go there!

Possible solutions

The sensible thing, I mused today, is to just give up! Do I possess the will-power, or am I hopelessly addicted? What about my self-esteem, in this respect? And, my health?

One day of awareness is not going to convince many smokers to give up, I fear. But making it legally difficult to smoke in public, may succeed – if the law is fully enforced. After all, most smokers will tell you that the most satisfying cigarette is the one that accompanies a good meal and a pleasant drink.

Plus, socially – even in Bulgaria – fewer and fewer among our friends and acquaintances now smoke. My wife gave up (literally overnight) well over a year ago. Recently, I noticed that, in the company of 8 Bulgarians, I was the only one to light up. I now feel the obligation to check whether I may smoke, something that was not applicable even a few years ago.

Then, there’s the cost factor. To a visitor from, say, UK or Germany, cigarettes (even the international imports) are still cheap. A pack of Marlboro Red costs about €9.20 in UK, and about €5.00 in Germany. However, on a Bulgarian salary, and in relation to PPP – Personal Purchasing Power, even domestically produced cigarettes are much more expensive.

If it’s true that the average Bulgarian smoker consumes 15 cigarettes daily, that’s an annual total of 5,475 ciggies, or 273 packs. At BGN 4.60 for a popular Bulgarian brand, annual expenditure is BGN 1,260, over BGN 100 per month – a considerable hole in the pocket.

Social costs

On a personal basis, I know what the rational decision should be, for the reasons spelled out above.

On a state and business level, it’s not so clear-cut. Since the last round of restrictions was introduced 5 years ago, the Bulgarian Association of Hoteliers and Restaurateurs estimates that BGN 50 million has been spent on ventilation and glass partitions in restaurants. The current question is: will restaurants now go out of business due to lack of (smoking) customers? Other European countries that have imposed similar bans provide confusing or contradictory statistics on the consequences – and all those countries have fewer smokers, percentage-wise, than Bulgaria.

Plus, the Bulgarian state coffers depend on tobacco duty and associated VAT to provide 10% of their income, whereas the European norm is more like 1.4%. If everyone here stopped overnight, that would cause an immediate black hole in government finances (to be offset by a decrease on health service demand?)

And that’s without counting the cost of revenue already being lost through the black market, estimated to account for 30% – 40% of Bulgarian retail consumption. (That’s been calculated as about 500,000 packs per day!)

The way out

I can’t be a hypocrite and say that, by continuing to smoke, I’m contributing to the country’s coffers. It’s all down to a personal decision and some will-power and determination.

I’ll let you know what happens…

Post-scriptum

When a total ban on smoking in pubs and restaurants was about to come into effect in Ireland, a TV channel interviewed an old local in his pub. With his pint of Guinness perched on the table, and a fag in his mouth, he mused aloud when asked how big a problem this ban would be. “The biggest problem is this – what are they going to do with all those ash-trays?” What a philosopher!

Source [1]: http://www.who.int/tobacco/wntd/en/

 Image source: http://www.fsquarefashion.com
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