The drop in smokers in Spain slows down in 2021 after a large drop in the year of confinement

The drop in tobacco consumption in Spain driven by the pandemic continues in 2021, although much smoother. The latest data from the Observatory of the Spanish Association Against Cancer (AECC) reveal that there are 8.8 million smokers, of which 7.85 are daily and the rest are occasional. Both are reduced compared to 2020, with 8,236 people who consume tobacco (daily or sporadically) less in Spain. A drop of 0.1%.

The keys to the Health plan against tobacco: smoking in the car is prohibited, more taxes and a stop to electronic cigarettes

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The decline is much less pronounced than that which occurred in the first year of the pandemic. With confinement, more than 780,000 people (9%) stopped using tobacco. However, occasional smokers rose slightly: from 921,667 to 929,474. The 2021 data is positive to the extent that it is the first year since 2017 in which all types of tobacco users are reduced, albeit slightly.

The figures are published when the Ministry of Health is finalizing a comprehensive plan against tobacco until 2025, a tool with which it intends to reform the anti-smoking law of 2010 after verifying that has lost effect ten years later. The first years with the norm in force, the number of smokers per year fell at a good pace. Afterwards, the declines shortened until finally there was a consumer rebound in 2018 and 2019.

Men smoke more between the ages of 25 and 34, according to 2021 data, while the highest concentration of female smokers occurs between the ages of 45 and 54. Men, in any case, continue to be more smokers at all ages and there are 12% of young people between 15 and 24 years of age who consume daily, compared to 16% on average in the entire population.

The smoke on the terraces is not harmless

The main novelty of the reform that Health wants to promote, according to the working documents known so far, is the extension of the ban on smoking in certain outdoor spaces. The current law only includes school and health environments and playgrounds as outdoor smoke-free areas. The Spanish Association Against Cancer (AECC) warns of the urgency of this reform because "you don't have to smoke to be affected by tobacco."

In 95% of the terraces there are levels of nicotine that are harmful to health: "We have the preconceived idea that smoke goes away outdoors, but it does not vanish, it stays in the structures and continues to cause damage

Sebastián del Busto — Prevention and health promotion AECC

Of the eight million deaths a year in the world due to tobacco, one million "have not lit a cigarette", explained Sebastián del Busto, head of the organization's area of ​​prevention and health promotion, at a breakfast organized by the entity with which the AECC intends to pressure to speed up the times of legal modifications before the arrival of an electoral period in 2023.

According to data from the organization, in 95% of the terraces there are levels of nicotine that are harmful to health. "We have the preconceived idea that smoke goes away outdoors, but it doesn't vanish, it stays in the structures and continues to cause damage," said del Busto. The AECC considers that the priority in outdoor spaces is to protect minors to prevent them from being passive smokers. 70% are exposed to environmental smoke, 40% outdoors, which multiplies the risk of developing cancer, increases ear infections by 50%, respiratory infections by 30% and asthma attacks by 20%.

The unknown is how ambitious the Government will be in updating the law. The forecast is to launch a comprehensive plan until 2025 in the coming weeks with four objectives: smoke-free spaces, taxation, environmental protection and better coordination between ministries, scientific societies and associations, although in the law, it ensures the AECC, only the edge related to open-air spaces will foreseeably be included. For taxation, another rule would be needed.

It's not the space, but who you have by your side

Yolanda Fernández — Director of Political Incidence of the AECC

Organizations such as the National Committee for the Prevention of Smoking (which includes 40 scientific societies) and the Spanish Society of Pulmonology and Thoracic Surgery see institutional receptivity for new smoke-free spaces in hotels, bus stops, train platforms and also sports stadiums or beaches. “You can no longer smoke on terraces with roofs and walls, that is already stated in the 2010 law, but it is not monitored and it is not sanctioned. We want this reform to define the spaces well, ”says Yolanda Fernández, director of Political Incidence of the AECC. And she gives as an example the doubts about what is the perimeter that must be respected around schools or the fact that in universities -unless there are specific regulations of the campus as in the Carlos III of Madrid– You can smoke in the outdoor facilities. “What about the queues when we go to a public event?” she wonders, going one step further.

The organization, ideally, takes the example of the Balearic Islands as a mirror in which to look at itself, where smoking has been prohibited on public roads if there are people nearby. "It's not the space, but who you have next to you," Fernández insisted.

Smoking also depends on social class

The pandemic made it possible to take a giant step forward in the public health strategy against tobacco. The Interterritorial Health Council agreed to release the smoke terraces to prevent the transmission of the coronavirus, although the measure is not carried out equally in all communities. According to the annual survey on smoking by the Spanish Society of Family and Community Medicine (Semfyc), three out of four people would keep the ban and six out of ten would also veto smoking in the street. The measure would be accepted by 40% of smokersreveals a survey of the same company.

The Spanish Association Against Cancer hopes that the reform will be a vehicle to equalize the right not to be exposed to tobacco in all territories. In some cities, for example, smoking cigarettes is already prohibited on the beaches.

However, there are still strong social and geographical factors that determine the level of consumption, such as social class or place of origin. According to data from the AECC Observatory, Extremadura (25%) and Murcia (24%) are the two communities with the highest percentage of smokers. "They coincide with the territories that are more tobacco producers," interprets the entity.

On the other hand, consumption among those from lower social strata is almost double that of people with a better economic situation. The percentage of smokers among directors and managers of companies with more than 10 workers and among professionals with university degrees is 12.56% compared to 22.38% among the population that works without qualification.

graphics of Victoria Oliveres.

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