Greece might be the only country where the smoking ban has triggered so much resistance, transformed into a battle against repression, a human rights issue. Where other countries simply abide by the law, here we see banners raised in opposition, new movements and even political parties (colorful ones, sure, but here nonetheless). A cigarette is not just a cigarette in Greece; it is so much more. It’s sacred, an inviolable right, a symbol of the country’s energetic nightlife and all of its magical enchantment: bars, late nights, alcohol, music, instant crushes etc.
I have the sense, however, that the problem is not exactly being caused by a part of Greek society that is passionately and heedlessly determined to endow smoking with an existential and political dimension, to see it as a justified cause, to take it for granted that they can and must subject others to their tobacco smoke.
I think the problem stems from higher up, from the top. In other words, there’s a lack of political willpower to enforce the ban. Deep down, the state itself does not believe in its own law. It just won’t have it. Prime ministers may have championed the ban (George Papandreou wanted it and Kyriakos Mitsotakis certainly does), but that’s about it: From ministers and deputy ministers to MPs and civil servants, smokers and non-smokers alike appear to have formed a silent, unholy alliance whose purpose is to circumvent the smoking ban.
And so the onus falls on the staunch anti-smokers demanding nothing more than what they are entitled to by law. Why do they have to become the ogres, the killjoys who want to spoil everyone else’s good fun? Simply because, until now at least, neither ministers nor the police cared about their opinion, nor did they want to ruin a good thing for bar and nightclub owners. As we know from the terrible noise pollution in so many parts of the country, bars have been allowed to rule the roost for years. If you live above or near a bar, you’re in for a lot of misery. And if you take any action against the bar (however justified), you will come out the loser, mainly as a result of resistance from the relevant municipal authority and ultimately of the state itself to the crazy notion that you have the right to a good night’s sleep in your own home.
The government today appears determined to carry out its promises to crack down on smoking in public spaces. Time will tell whether it’s sincere in its intentions, as it is typical in Greece for a law to be strictly enforced in the first few months and then allowed to slide – until it stops being enforced entirely.
But the time has to come in this country too, when doing what should go without saying, goes without saying.