Number of smokers in Spain reaches pre-smoking ban levels

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A new survey has revealed that 34% of Spaniards smoke cigarettes every day, compared to 32.8% when the anti-tobacco law was introduced

The number of smokers in Spain has crept up to the levels recorded before the anti-tobacco law was introduced in 2005. According to the drug-consumption survey EDADES, carried out by the Health Ministry, 34% of Spaniards between the ages of 15 and 64 smoke on a daily basis. In 2005, before the law came into effect, the rate was 32.8%.

The 2005 law banned smoking in the workplace but allowed it in smaller bars and restaurants; it was then toughened in 2010 to ban smoking from all closed public spaces. The most notable drop happened in the first year of the law’s introduction, when the percentage of daily smokers fell from 30.8% to 29.6%.

Health Minister María Luisa Carcedo and Azucena Martí, the government delegate for the National Plan on Drugs, presented the results of the survey on Tuesday but they were unable to explain the rise in smokers. Carcedo said that more work needed to be done to ensure the current laws are being enforced. She did not rule out or confirm whether the Socialist Party (PSOE) government of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez was planning to ban smoking in cars or homes where there are minors, saying the issue would be complicated given that these are private spaces.

The health minister did, however, announce that the government would launch a special campaign to stop young people from taking up smoking. According to the biannual survey, the number of young smokers has risen five percentage points in the past two years.

Francisco Rodríguez Lozano, the president of the European Network for Smoking Protection (ENSP), believes the rise in smokers could be related to the increasing number of women who are taking up the habit. The ENSP head says Spain should adopt measures that have had success in other countries, such as banning smoking at the beach and in vehicles.

Regina Dalmau, the president of the National Committee for Tobacco Prevention (CNPT), agrees that the government must do more to tackle the problem. “Part of the explanation is the lack of policies to control tobacco, the self-complacency and passivity, which, given it is our main public health problem, indicates the lack of a sense of responsibility from the governments involved,” she said.

“We will have to analyze in detail what sections of the population have seen an increase in smoking, but in any of them, the data is alarming,” she added. “I’m indignant.”

Rodrigo Córdoba, the former president of the CNPT and an anti-tobacco activist, has no doubt that a lack of government action is to blame: “Nothing has been done in recent years,” he said. “In the fight against tobacco you have to continue to introduce measures. It’s like riding a bike. If you stop pedaling, you fall over.”

Córdoba is proposing financial measures (increasing the cost of tobacco is the most effective strategy) and raising taxes on cigarettes. He also warns that devices that supply nicotine, such as electronic cigarettes, will maintain the number of smokers by providing two forms of consumption.

While the percentage of people who smoke has risen, the number of cigarette packs sold has dropped from 4.6 billion in 2005 to 2.2 billion in 2017. While one interpretation could be that Spaniards are smoking less, it is also possible more people are choosing to roll their own cigarettes.

Other drug consumption

Alcohol remains the most popular drug in Spain with consumption at 75.2%. It is followed by tobacco (40.9%), sedatives (11.1%) and cannabis (11%). At the end of the list are cocaine (2.2%), ecstasy (0.6%), hallucinogens (0.4%), amphetamines (0.5%) and heroin (0.15).

As well as tobacco, cannabis consumption has also increased in the past two years. The EDADES survey found that while daily use has remained the same (2.1% of those surveyed), the number of Spaniards who said they had used the drug in the past month jumped from 7.3% to 9.3%, and in the last year from 9.5% to 11%. The Health Ministry highlighted the close relationship between cannabis and tobacco given that 92.2% of people who smoke marijuana or hashish mix it with tobacco.

Sedatives and painkillers are the only drugs that women take more of than men but in 95% of cases they had been prescribed.