Having lived in Austria for over two months now, I started to look a little bit beyond the charm of mountainous backdrops and the sweet taste of Sachertorte. It is hard to argue that, objectively, it is a great country to live in for many reasons: high standard of living, decent wages, excellent social security system, clean surroundings etc. There is one thing that does not agree with this pretty picture, though. It’s the smoking. Smoking in Austria is horrible.
It has been a while since I have seen so many smokers of different ages able to cultivate their addiction in cafes and restaurants. Really intrigued, I decided to do a little of digging around to find out why smoking is so popular in Austria. Below are some of my conclusions reached after a little bit of research.
To get the scale of the problem, look at the following data (source here):
- Around 14.000 Austrians die every year as a result of diseases associated with tobacco consumption
- 2,2 million of Austrians smoke regularly – this is 26% of the country’s population
- On average, 20 cigarettes are consumed per smoker per day in Austria
- 1500 euro is the cost of yearly consumption of tobacco (assuming 20 cigarettes per day with the daily cost of 4,10 euro)
- 500 million euro – the cost of social damages caused by nicotine consumption in Austria
So… is this is part of the café culture?
I used to think this is a French thing: a cup of coffee in one hand, a cigarette in the other, a nostalgic gaze through the window… Apparently, a typical Austrian Kaffeehaus does not differ much from this description. This is also confirmed by the omnipresent Tabak shops, which sell solely tobacco products and accessories. I always wonder how big the demand has to be for Salzburgers to have so many of those shops around different parts of the city.
Strong restaurant lobby
Part of the smoking problem are the restaurants themselves. Since 2009, the mandatory law mandates that all restaurants, bars etc. larger than 50 m2 have to introduce a non-smoking section, if they permit smoking inside at all. The smoking ban has been, however, ignored by many restaurant owners and is not really enforced by the authorities.
According to the Chamber of Commerce, restaurants and cafes invested over 100 million euros in new ventilation systems and glass partitions (that are meant to make the experience more bearable for non-smokers). Restaurants see a smoking ban as detrimental to their potential sales.
A matter of habit
Austria is one of the last countries with a legal smoking age of 16. This partially explains one of the highest smoking rates among teenagers and young adults in Europe. According to the Tobacco Atlas, 18% of boys and 21% more girls smoke in Austria than on average in high-income countries. Habits are formed over the years – if young people are used to smoking very early on, it gets harder from them to ditch the addition in later years.
It a (cheap) vicious cycle
Austria is one of the countries were cigarettes are the cheapest. An average price for a pack of Marlboros is below $5. For comparison, that same pack in Australia costs above $15. I am not sure, how reliable this data is here, but prices of cigarettes are higher in literally every higher income country than Austria.
A quick update to the article: a total smoking ban in restaurants and cafés is due in 2018. The owners who went completely smoke-free before July 2016, received a special one-off bonus to offset parts of the adjustment costs. Moreover, since 2015, some new information has been provided on cigarette packets in Austria, which aims to outline the health consequences of smoking. The packages itself also provide the phone number for the Austrian-wide stop smoking helpline. The helpline is a joint initiative of the social insurance department and the Austrian Ministry of Health, but remains operated by a team of clinical and health psychologists in St. Pölten. The operators confirmed that they have seen in an increase in the numbers of phone calls in the entire 2015. Additionally, 30% of those inquiring about help have successfully stopped smoking.
For a list of non-smoking restaurants and cafés in Salzburg, go here (not sure when the website was updated last, but this is a good starting point).