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FAQ: Do all Greeks smoke?

Wherever you go in Greece, you will find people smoking: in pubs, bars, cafés, restaurants and taverns; in the open air or indoors; whether there is a no-smoking sign or not. People smoke in the streets and roll cigarettes on park benches. Does everyone smoke here? Everywhere?

smoking at cafe

Let me try to answer these questions one by one.

Does everyone smoke in Greece?

No, not everyone, although it may seem so. Greece is among the top countries in the world in number of smokers. Yet, although we top the list, the percentage of smokers is only about 38-40% of people above the age of 16. That means that the majority of us, 60 – 62% of adults, not to mention children, don’t smoke[1].

Then why do I see smoke anywhere?

I’m afraid most Greek managers don’t read statistics. If they did, they would have realised that they have nothing to fear if they ban smoking. As it is, they’re afraid that by not allowing smokers to smoke they may lose business. They have no idea how many of us stay home, invite friends over and order pizza.

Aren’t there no-smoking laws?

Of course! We have one of the best anti-smoking legislations since 2009. According to it, it is illegal to smoke indoors in ANY public space (but one may smoke freely in the open air). Unfortunately, the penalties for transgressors (usually fines) have proved ineffective deterrents. There were also jurisdiction issues, but before these were resolved, the crisis was upon us; municipal police was nearly dismantled, while regular police got downsized. Smoking is not a top priority for their overstretched forces.

smoking under no-smoking sign

So the law simply got disregarded by customers and establishments alike, save for one thing: the ashtrays have disappeared, giving their place to cups or vases. They serve the same purpose, but upon inspection an owner may claim that they do not allow patrons to smoke – if anyone is seen smoking “Oh, sorry officer, I didn’t notice, I’ll tell them to put it out right away.”

vases instead of ashtrays

What can I do when I go to a place where they smoke?

It is important to ask whether there is a non-smoking section before you sit down at a restaurant or other venue. Usually, the non-smoking section is indoors and the smoking section outdoors. There is no division between them, which means that smoke may be blown your way and there’s nothing you can do about it.

However, if the manager has claimed that there is a non-smoking section, they will usually respond if you complain about someone smoking there and they will tell them to put it out or move to the smokers’ section.

If there is no non-smoking section, there is very little you can do. You may decide to stay, choosing a place outdoors – if you do, take care to sit upwind. Or you may tell the manager, and they might tell their patrons. In most cases, it may be more productive if you ask those sitting next to you to reduce their smoking.  If you are polite and careful to appeal to their better selves, they are more likely to oblige than the manager; with Greeks being generally open-hearted and enthusiastic, you may even strike up a conversation and get instant new friends. Or you may leave. If you do, make a point of telling the manager why you are leaving – once he realizes he’s about to lose your business, he may scramble to find a solution. If that doesn’t happen, your complaint may help future travelers, as proprietors slowly realize the cost of their policies.

Lastly, you may call the police. In my experience, this is the least helpful option, as they are usually too understaffed to deal with that sort of thing. If they do show up, they may simply give a warning; after their departure, all the smokers who put out their cigarettes when the police were there, will light up again, with defiance.

Where can one go without smoke?

Ah, good question. There is only one solution: a Greek association of non-smokers publishes online the non-smoking venues they find. It is published as a list, a map or an Android app. My wife and I consult it on the rare occasions we go out. The page may be in Greek, but most venues’ names are in Latin characters, so it’s relatively easy to figure out the rest (whether it’s a bar, restaurant or cafe, its address, etc).

What happens if my taxi-driver smokes?

The majority of smoking drivers will not smoke when they have passengers on board. Sometimes one might forget oneself and light up, but they will put it out if you remind them. If you hail a driver who smokes, simply tell them that you’d rather not smoke and they will oblige (or risk losing a ride). If you’d rather not board a smoke-filled vehicle simply say so and hail another.

If you want to avoid the hassle altogether, perhaps you’d better call for a taxi (from any place, at no extra charge)[2]. If you tell them you need a non-smoking vehicle, they’ll send you one, within 5-10 minutes, tops.

smoking taxi driver

Wherever you go, whatever you do, enjoy yourselves!

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[1] According to the Eurobarometer, 40% of Greeks smoke (read their report). According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, the average is 38%. See their interactive world map.

[2] The following are numbers of three dependable companies that operate in Athens: 18288, 18222, 18300 (the usual phone charges apply; there is no charge for sending the taxi; you pay what the meter shows; the latter company has a minimum fee of 5 euros).

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