Blogpost: Is Eastern Europe a Smoker’s Paradise?

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By Hana Ross

I recently attended three events in Eastern/Central Europe (Bulgaria, Poland and the Czech Republic) and concluded that this region of the world is still a smoker’s paradise.

First, each smoker has a lot of peers and fellow smokers, since smoking prevalence in Eastern/Central Europe is high. In Bulgaria, for example, 43.3% of males and 26.8% of females smoke cigarettes, while 27.4% of boys and 30.1% of girls age 13 – 15 currently use tobacco. In Poland, 32% of males and 19% of females are classified as current tobacco users.[1]

As a result, the social acceptability of smoking is high and smokers are not motivated to quit. In Bulgaria, for example, 78% of smokers have never tried to quit, as opposed to only 29% of smokers in the UK.[2]

Second, prices are low. In 2016, only four countries in the EU reported an average price of a cigarette pack of under 3 Euros, and all of them were in Eastern/Central Europe – Bulgaria (2,42 Euro), Lithuania (2.77 Euro), Latvia (2.89 Euro) and the Czech Republic (2.95 Euro).[3]The EU average price in that year was 4.41 Euro.[4]

Third, smoking is allowed in many public places and enforcement of existing restrictions is low.

In 2017, people reported the most exposure to smoking in bars in Greece (87% of respondent), Croatia (77% of respondents), and in the Czech Republic (73% of respondents). The EU average for exposure to smoking in bars was 20% that year.[5]I can attest to those statistics from walking around Sofia and seeing places with names like “Tobacco Café” and “Smoking Café”. Smokers in Sofia seem to have it easy. About 42% of bar visitors in Bulgaria reported being exposed to smoking[6]despite the country’s reporting the highest level of achievement in smoke-free legislation to WHO in 2017[7]. Obviously, enforcement is lagging behind. At the same time, policy makers in the Czech Republic are currently contemplating revoking the ban on smoking in public places that has been in place for about a year.[8]Why would any country want to go backwards?

Fourth, the industry has a strong influence on policy makers and policy. In Bulgaria, the industry has direct access to policymakers, which allows it to influence tobacco control legislature and tobacco taxes.[9]In Poland, the tobacco industry is a trusted a partner of the government in the preparation and implementation of legislation.[10]And the president of the Czech Republic, a smoker, publicly recommended (while visiting the production facility of Philip Morris) that people start smoking after the age of 27 since “smoking is without any risks after that age.”[11]

Sad to say, in that part of the world smokers might not be very motivated to quit, and young people are encouraged by their leaders to smoke. This is not a smoker’s paradise, this is the tobacco industry’s paradise.

[1]WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, 2017.

[2]Eurobarometer, 2017.

[3]WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, 2017.

[4]Author’s calculation based on WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, 2017.

[5]Eurobarometer, 2017.

[6]Eurobarometer, 2017.

[7]WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, 2017.

[8]https://zpravy.aktualne.cz/domaci/politika/temer-90-poslancu-navrhuje-zmirneni-protikurackeho-zakona-na/r~7698483e10c511e8b8efac1f6b220ee8/

[9]Skafida V, Silver KE, Rechel BPD, et al. Tobacco Control 2014;23: e75–e84.

[10]Balwicki Ł, Stokłosa M, Balwicka-Szczyrba M, et al. Tobacco Control.  2015.

[11]https://zpravy.idnes.cz/zeman-na-navsteve-kutne-hory-dip-/domaci.aspx?c=A131016_175142_domaci_klm