Finally this week, the government has approved a proposal banning tobacco advertising and sponsorship of events by tobacco firms. The proposal comes after parliament approved a similar law in May, only to have the Senate reject it weeks later saying the measure was too broad and should instead focus on protecting children and young people from tobacco products.
But the new centre-left coalition has vowed to push through the legislation, and it has many supporters in the anti-smoking lobby. They point to World Health Organisation figures showing that some 60 people in the Czech Republic die each day from smoking-related illnesses. The tobacco industry, for its part, says cigarette advertising is aimed at persuading existing smokers to change brands. Nonsense, says doctor Eva Kralikova, an expert in smoking cessation.
"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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