Mark D. Roberts

Part 3 of series: European Reflections 2006
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I’ve been to Europe three times, and every time I feel the same sense of shock when I first step off the airplane and walk into the airport. Europe has a distinct smell. It’s a smell I once associated with Denny’s restaurants and the bad kids who hung out at “the bridge” near my junior high school. It’s a smell that once permeated Greyhound buses and lingered in cheap motel rooms. It’s a smell that’s mostly been abolished in my home state of California, at least in public. It is, as you’ve no doubt guessed, the smell of cigarettes.
What begins in the airport continues elsewhere, in hotel lobbies, fine restaurants, and thousands of sidewalk cafés. Europeans love to eat, drink, talk, and smoke. They smoke in the morning and at night and in between. They smoke when they’re young and they smoke when they’re old and in between. (Photo to the right: A couple of Sicilian men doing what Sicilian men do so well.)
Now I’m sure there are millions of Europeans who don’t smoke. Yet I can’t believe how many of them do. Of course I know millions of Americans smoke too, but I’ll bet that Europeans outsmoke us by a wide margin, at least. If this is true, I wonder why.
I did a little Net surfing to see if it’s true that Europeans smoke more than Americans. In general, this relationship holds firm, with the exception of Sweden. Though there is some variation in the data depending on which study one reads, the basic stats have just under 20% of Americans smoking, and just over 30% of Europeans smoking.
In actuality, European smoking habits vary considerably according to several factors. More European men smoke than European women, 37% to 27%. The heaviest smokers are in the 25-39 age bracket, with the 15-24 year-olds close behind. Just over half of all 19-year-olds in Europe smoke (51%). There is also plenty of variation according to country. According to the World Health Organization, Greeks and Germans lead the pack with a smoking population of about 35%. The Finns and the Swedes fall in a healthier 20% range. (Ironically, what got me thinking about “the smell of Europe” were my first days in Europe, which happened to be in Germany and Greece, the two heaviest smoking countries.)
In general, three Europeans smoke for every two Americans. But, given the tendency for Europeans to smoke in public places, it seems as if the ratio is far greater in favor of European smoking. Once again I did a bit of web surfing to see why there aren’t laws in Europe that limit smoking in restaurants and other public spaces. It turns out that these laws are often on the books, but are simply not followed by the people or enforced by the authorities. As one European anti-smoking activist said, “The culture in Europe regards smoking as a victimless, inalienable right.”
Why, I wonder, do Europeans tend to smoke more than Americans, especially given the tendency for Europeans to be more health conscious than Americans? I’ll suggest a few answers to this question in my next post.

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