In middle school civics, we learned an important lesson about living in a civilized society: “My right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins.” This simple idea was a deep thought to my 7th grade brain, and I would really like the smokers in Greece to learn this lesson. Dear smokers: if that swinging fist contains carcinogens, your right to smoke ends where my inhalation begins. 

If you talk to any expat in Greece, and many Greeks themselves, the smoking issue is one of the most frustrating aspects of living here. It is considered rude to not accommodate smokers. Even in a non-smoking home. Even in a non-smoking restaurant or cafe. 

When we first arrived in Athens in January, we went to Flocafe for a coffee and a snack (I consider it the Greek version of Starbucks, even though Starbucks shops here are as ubiquitous as rats in a New York City subway, and about as appealing). In the haze of our jet-lag, with the prospect of living for a year in a burglarized and heatless apartment, our mood was pretty sour. When we went into the cafe, the conceptual haze became a real, smoky haze from the many cigarettes being smoked in the cafe, only souring the mood further.

And here is the irony: there were no smoking signs posted everywhere. 

No Smoking!
No Smoking!

So, after being offered to sit further away from the smokers, we sat outside and the manager turned on a heat lamp and explained to us that, even though it is illegal to smoke in the cafe (a new law that went into effect in December 2013), he can’t turn away smoking customers because it would be death to his business. It makes business sense for him to pay whatever government fines come his way to keep his smoking customers. And, he said, the government makes money on the fines because they know that no business will actually enforce the smoking ban. But the true irony is that the government has no money to enforce the ban, so they can’t even send out people to collect the fines. 

According to most data sources, smokers in Greece constitute just under 40% of the population. There’s an NPR article, a lengthy WHO Report, and lots and lots of anecdotal evidence. The data shows that non-smokers are the majority. Not a huge majority, but, as every American who remembers Nader Traders, presidential elections have been won by slimmer majorities. 

(As a side note, it is unbelievable to me that, when people can’t afford to heat their apartments or pay for the insurance on their cars, they can afford a 2 to 3 pack a day habit. Unlike alcohol, which is pretty cheap, cigarettes are wicked expensive.)

I really wish that more Greeks would rebel against the smoking masses. I wonder: when will the day come that non-smoking is de rigeur in this country of so much history and natural beauty? When are non-smokers in Greece going to rise up and demand that their noses are precisely where the smokers’ rights end?

Posted by:beaniebrady

7 replies on “My Right To Swing My Fist

  1. Why so many people smoke in Europe in general ??? They should have cafés like in Montreal that say: “Where ONLY the coffee SMOKES !!!” . AMEN !

    1. Yes, Sophie!! I agree!! I think we need to have non-smoking sit ins, since it’s socially acceptable here to sit in a cafe all day after ordering one coffee. Do that with a bunch of non-smokers, who occupy coffee shops all day. It’s a dream!!

  2. Bravo Beanie! The other huge and horrible consequence to the smoking here is the children. Not only are they subjected to smoking while in the womb, but also in their houses and every single place their parents take them. Becoming blooming addicts and cigarette lovers, as well as disease and respiratory illness carriers to boot. The other is that even if they are lucky enough not to be around too much smoking, they are bound to play at a playground which is littered with nasty butts, or even worse, at a beach which is to the Greeks just a giant ashtray. So gross. I really deplore the system here for lack of reprimand or punishment, lack of education, lack of understanding health consequences, and blatant lack of caring for the children’s welfare. These poor children are being slowly poisoned, and apparently that is socially acceptable – as are restaurant and cafe workers stuck with a job that endangers their health. I really loved the recent ad from an Asian non-smoking campaign, where 2 kids were approaching adults and asking them for cigarettes. When denied, they then asked the smoker why couldn’t they. It is a brilliant way to turn on an adults lights. A “what smoking can do to you, and more importantly your children” campaign is SO necessary here!!

    1. Keri, I remember the lung images of my childhood. The American Cancer Society did an amazing ad campaign when we were young — I remember cutting out ads from magazines and posting them where my mom kept her cigarettes (I was a naughty kid). The truth is that the Greek (and others: Italy and China are two countries that friends tell me are terrible with smoking) mentality is difficult to change. And there are huge corporate interests (BIG money) invested in keeping people smoking, and spending those Euros on cigarettes. As Kathy mentions below, it’s also completely unfair to people who work in these environments. We all know anecdotally, and scientifically, the data is there (this article on flight attendants prior to the smoking ban:

      I am ready to participate in a non-smoking campaign!! It dovetails nicely with the clean beach (this is not your ashtray!) campaign I dream of!

  3. My favorite thing about this post is your use of the word “wicked.” As a born and bred Bostonian living hell and gone from my hometown, I always love to hear that word. Makes me think I’m home, if only just for a second. I’ve shed most of my Boston accent, which I know is one you find particularly off-putting, but I’ve held on to that word and use it sparingly, so as to keep it special.

    As to the smoking….yeah, I don’t get it. When I was a waitress in the late 80’s restaurants were all about smoking. In our restaurant, the non-smoking section was two small tables next to the kitchen in which no one ever sat. People would wait an hour rather than sit “in our non-smoking section.” I would leave work and the smell of stale smoke coming off me in the shower was disgusting…even though I must confess to smoking here and there, especially when alcohol was involved. But I digress…

    I’ve told my kids there are many things for which you will be forgiven by me. And quickly, at that. And I’ve gone on to say that if I catch either of you smoking a cigarette, ever, you will wish you had chosen a different sin. Especially after I make you eat a few of them. Which I will do. I had no trouble quitting when I was still in my 20’s….too many people are not as fortunate. I’m still amazed in this day and age so many people still light up.

    I mean back in the day when my dad would smoke a pack while we were running errands on a Saturday afternoon WITH THE WINDOWS UP because, well Boston is cold in the winter…he didn’t really know any better. We do now. Ok, I think this comment is officially longer than your original blog post.

    Love you! Keep ’em coming!

    1. Thanks, Kathy!! Yup, our parents did not have the indoctrination that we did, and I only hope that Greece is like the US in the 70s, and that the next 5-6 years will bring about a subtle shift in people’s behaviors that will manifest with a younger generation. As Keri pointed out above, I simply don’t see that happening right now, which is what is scary. It’s really about changing the way people view themselves in the world, and I think it’s up to non-smokers to say No Thank You, or stop patronizing businesses (this would be TOUGH!) where they don’t adhere to the law.

      I distinctly remember the Great American Smoke Out. I think there should be an equivalent Great Greek Smoke Out, if only to get people talking. I remember kids in high school “quitting” for the day.

      Thanks for your kind words — they mean a lot coming from you!! LOVE!!

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