Have the Greeks lost their marbles?
By Carol Cattell.
Carol is an Englishwoman abroad, she lives in Greece. Here she reflects on the Greeks and their smoking ban. She is also a paid up member of Freedom2Choose.
SOME REFLECTIONS ON GREECE'S 18 JANUARY BAN NEWS
Well, I was as surprised and depressed as anyone else at the rapid reversal from Monday 17th January’s announcement that the ban was to be relaxed, to the statement on Tuesday 18th January that it was going to be implemented in full.
There is no point simply reproducing here the good, followed by bad, news; others have done that already. And yes, we all think that the Greek Minister of Health Andreas Loverdos was “leaned on” by the Prime Minister George Papandreou; and whether George in turn was leaned on by the EU, WHO, or George’s old mates at Harvard, I shall leave to other cleverer political analysts to conjecture.
But I thought it may be interesting to add some other random observations and notes from within Greece. These are of course personal, and I apologise for what is likely to be a longish post. I also know that Greek names can be difficult to follow!
1. Implementing the ban will involve “appointing” an extra smoke 800 inspectors, we are told.
People outside Greece need to know that this will not actually mean appointing 800 extra public sector staff at this time of economic crisis. The public sector is already hugely over-staffed through years of nepotism, bribery, and the buying of votes by all political parties and the Government is trying to reduce numbers drastically.
However, employment contracts mean that no public employee can be sacked nor made redundant, for whatever reason, although they can be moved to other jobs while maintaining their existing salary and benefits. Quite simply, these 800 inspectors will be transferred from their existing jobs as part of reducing the public sector to a realistic level. (Just as, in fact, UK local authorities have done for years with various EU and central funding grants.)
At worst, the cost to the Government will be nil; they would have had to pay them anyway. At best, there may well have been substantial EU (or other) grant monies available/offered for anti-smoking measures which would of course be of substantial financial benefit to the Government. I estimate the cost of these 800 inspectors to be between 15 and 19 million euros a year. Can anyone find out whether Greece is in fact to receive a grant for such measures?
(Incidentally, at least 60% of these inspectors are likely to be smokers themselves!)
2. George Papandreou, Prime Minister
He was born and raised in America. He studied sociology, and studied and worked at Harvard, as did his father, a previous Prime Minister. He is known to be a fervent anti-smoker. (Oh, just google him.) Apart from this anti-smoking stuff, he's not a bad chap.
Harvard/ nepotism/EU links: A man called Panagiotis Behrakis is the Chairman of Greece’s National Co-ordinating Committee Against Smoking, the Chairman of the EU-funded European Network for Prevention of Smoking and Tobacco Control, and Adjunct Associate Professor at Harvard University. Panagiotis's cousin is George Behrakis, an American pharmaceutical entrepreneur who has donated millions to Harvard, and to arts, and the Greek Orthodox Church (still hugely influential within Greece).
3. Internal Greek politics
These will have played a very strong part in all this. Not just between the parties, but also inside the current government - Pasok.
I have no idea what standing the Health Minister has, but it may well be that the Prime Minister deliberately set him up for this fall so he could subsequently get rid of him. (My personal opinion is that this is quite likely.)
Equally the Justice Minister (what a job! Sheesh!) Haris Kastanidis is reckoned to be a reasonably incorrupt man, by Greek standards, and strengthening his department by 800 inspectors may have nothing to do with smoking, but a lot to do with transferring his corrupt staff over to the less contentious smoking arena.
4. Raising revenue through fines
A straw poll of our local bar owners says that they think the Government wants to raise a lot of money through smoking fines. Estimates are pretty wild, but around 50 million euros was mentioned earlier this evening.
5. Casinos and Music Clubs
The newly-strengthened ban is going to extend to casinos and “bouzoukia”, who were previously somewhat exempt. (a “bouzouki” is a very traditional Greek outfit: basically, large nightclubs holding from 300 - 2,000 people with live music and floor shows - some quite “exotic” - a lot of Greek dancing, very expensive drinks, with glamorous girls selling fresh flower petals to throw over favoured singers and dancers, and open from around midnight till 7 am. The atmosphere is extraordinary, and they are very popular. Even our small town has its own bouzouki.)
However, culture lesson aside, what is significant is that everyone, but everyone, smokes at these places. And that the owners of casinos and bouzoukia throughout Greece tend to be very rich, and very influential on local affairs and on politicians.
Many are involved in politics themselves. They pay enormous taxes, but on enormous profits. And they are now VERY VERY CROSS that they as well as the little cafe-bars are going to suffer from this ban.
6. Will it work?
We honestly don’t know. The Greeks have ignored all bans to date. People even smoke at garages sitting in their car while it’s being filled up with petrol (which does scare the s*i* out of me!). Even this Monday I was having lunch with some friends and, because some were still eating, decided to stroll outside for a cigarette, even though there were ashtrays on the tables. The waiter rushed outside after me, apologising profusely, and explaining with huge politeness and consternation that of course I could smoke inside. To save his face, and mine, I explained I wanted a little fresh air.
But we wait to see how many fines there will be, and how active these inspectors are going to be.
What is clear is that smokers in Greece have not been denormalised, and that there has been as yet no attempt to denormalise us.