On Monday, the government approved a proposal banning virtually all tobacco advertising and sponsorship of events by tobacco firms in the Czech Republic. Earlier this year the lower house of parliament approved a similar law but only weeks later the legislation was defeated in the Senate. The new centre-left coalition has vowed to push the legislation through this time. Statistics say 19 percent of Czechs smoke on a regular basis and 13 percent occasionally. According to the World Health Organisation around 22,000 people die each year from smoking-related illnesses in the Czech Republic, that's a daily toll of 60 people. Pavla Horakova spoke to Doctor Eva Kralikova, an expert in giving up smoking. She began by asking her about the trend in smoking in the Czech Republic.
"The total number of smokers is slightly decreasing but what's alarming is that among young people it's increasing. So in the age group between 15 and 18 about a half of them smoke."
Do you think that tobacco advertisement really has so much impact on people because tobacco producers say tobacco advertisement cannot persuade people to take up smoking, they say it's meant to advertise different brands to smokers?
"Yes, this is a typical tobacco industry argument which is unfortunately not true. So it's not my opinion but it's been proven by the WHO or the World Bank that tobacco advertising is one of the most important things that influence the number of smokers in a country. Of course, it's not the only one, also it is the price of tobacco products, which is also very low in the Czech Republic, and the social environment and many others but tobacco advertising is crucial for recruiting new smokers. And this is all aimed at young people or better children."
Do you think that the image of smoking is changing in the Czech Republic?
"Well, this is a question of advertising because it says that smoking makes you glamorous, thin, successful, you have a lot of friends if you smoke and so on. It's mainly indirect advertising, such as sponsoring of concerts or connecting the image of a tobacco brand with something which is attractive for young people, such as racing, snowboarding, pop concerts and so on. So therefore it's very important to have a complete ban of tobacco advertising. If you have exceptions it doesn't work or maybe it's even worse. Because for example now the law says tobacco billboards can be only 300 metres away from schools which is counterproductive. Children think: 'Oh, smoking is something which I can do when I'm 18, so I cannot look at this nice billboard until I'm 18. This is terrible, so I will try to smoke.' I would recommend that tobacco advertising should be only in children's media, for example saying that every Barbie smokes Marlboro or something like that. Because then it would lose the glamorous, adult, adventurous look which it has now."
Do you think that this time the law has a better chance to be passed; that it will find more support in the Senate than earlier this year?
"I hope so very much. Because they missed only eight votes last time, so I hope now, after the elections, it will be better. And also another very promising thing is that our new health minister said she would support the increase of tobacco taxes because those are very low in the Czech Republic, and use some of the money for the health sector. So I hope it will work."
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