Italy - more people smoking more as a result of the poor economy..

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February 3, 2010 - Italians are so worried about the state of their economy that they are returning in droves to their favourite vice – cigarettes. More than two million people have started smoking again since the country’s authorities imposed a UK-style ban in 2005. (Italy was the fourth country in Europe to introduce comprehensive smoking bans in public places on the January 10, 2005.)

The law, which made smoking in all indoor public places illegal, bore results at first, with loyal customers choosing not to place owners of their favourite bars and restaurants at risk of massive fines. (Italy's 2005 smoking ban has led to a sharp fall in heart attacks..)

But an initial 12 percent drop in cigarette sales has been reversed, with the latest shock figures revealing that Italy now boasts a record 13 million smokers. In 2009 alone, four ex-smokers in every 100 took up the habit again.

Unlike the UK, there are more male smokers in Italy than female ones – 7.1 million, compared with 5.9 million women.

Last night experts blamed the recession, claiming that the added stress had caused ex-smokers to relapse, while unemployment and boredom were encouraging the young to take up smoking for the first time.

Pier Giorgio Zuccaro, of the health department’s alcohol, drugs and smoking institute, said: “The increase in the number of ex-smokers returning to the cigarette is partly linked to the economic crisis.” The pressure of being out of work, the anxiety of finding a new job and the increase in free time were all factors drawing back people who kicked the habit, he added. Lung specialist Dr Roberto Buffi agreed. “It is much easier for those with freer schedules to take up the little infernal cylinder,” he said.

Italy’s treasury is not even reaping the benefits of higher prices. Customs officials have seen a rise in bootleg cigarettes as their fellow countrymen go in search of a cheaper smoke. In the first few months of 2009, the number of smokers increased by 3.4 per cent while over-the-counter tobacco sales went down by three per cent. Official figures show that customs officers seized more than 170 tonnes of illegal tobacco, a 45 per increase over the previous year. Most of the contraband comes from Eastern Europe – particularly neighbouring Slovenia – and the biggest busts have happened in border towns and ports like Genoa, Trieste and Naples.

Reference: ITALY'S 2MILLION NEW SMOKERS by Marco Giannangeli,, 1/31/2010.

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