Estonia’s people smoke less than ever before

PHOTO: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire/Press Association Images

Adults in Estonia have never smoked as little as now. A survey of the Estonian Institute of Economic Research also reveals that people support tougher restrictions on smoking.

While Marje Josing, the director of the institute, released a scathing assessment of the government’s alcohol and excise tax policy, there are mainly good news regarding the tobacco policy, she opened the press conference on the tobacco consumption survey. By the way, while the previous survey on alcohol and cross-border trade had been commissioned by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the present one was commissioned by the Ministry of Social Affairs.

Josing began with a personal recollection from the early 1990s when she joined the Institute of Economic Research. “It was impossible to see anything during the meetings in the office of the then director of the institute. There were so many smokers,” she recalled.

Many situations considered quite normal 20 years ago – smoking in the office, aboard aircraft, in restaurants – are no longer thinkable today. This shows the improvement of the people’s attitudes and awareness, Josing said. It also shows that the state’s quite straightforward policy of restricting the sale of tobacco and access to it has been efficient, she added.

Twenty-two percent of Estonia’s adult residents or slightly more than one fifth were smokers in 2016. To compare, the share of smokers was 26 percent in 2014, but as high as 34 percent back in 1979.

It is interesting that while smoking has significantly declined among men within the past 20 years, it has remained at roughly the same level among women.

Estonia’s residents smoke generally less that the EU average. Those who do are not as intensive smokers as in Europe. While we consume fewer regular cigarettes than the rest of Europe, experimenting with alternative tobacco products, especially with e-cigarettes is more active as could be expected from an e-country. For example, 11.2 percent of the population tried e-cigarettes. Altogether more than one fifth of the population has used e-cigarettes, which ranks Estonia fourth among the EU countries.

Considering that a pack of average-price cigarettes cost 3.23 euros in 2016, a smoker consuming one pack per day spent 1,175 euros on cigarettes annually. This sum is comparable to a comfortable trip abroad or more or less average net salary. But when comparing the price of an average pack of cigarettes with a pack of smuggled cigarettes, the latter are much cheaper – approximately 1.92 euros.

As the price gap is noticeable, the share of smuggled cigarettes in the market is still very high at roughly 20 percent. Compared with 2015 when the subject was studied last the market of illegal cigarettes has actually increased by one percentage point.

Purchasing cigarettes abroad has also increased: while 13 percent of smokers brought cigarettes from abroad in 2015, the share was 27 percent in 2016. Active cross-border trade with Latvia has clearly increased the percentage.

Josing said that people mainly visit Latvia because of cheaper alcohol, but cigarettes are also bought there more frequently. “As a trend it is of course disturbing. It should be monitored,” she said, adding that Estonia could raise its tobacco excise if there were no cross-border grade.

“Since the smuggled cigarette market has increased and cross-border trade as well, we should be careful and not rush with raising the excises,” she explained.

 One of the conclusions of the survey was that tobacco products are easily accessible in Estonia.

According to the register of business activities, there were 2,555 retail sellers of tobacco products in Estonia in July 2017. The number of tobacconists increased by 48 within a year.

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