The number of smokers in Belgium has increased since before the pandemic started, but has decreased slightly since last year, while those who do smoke are doing so more often.
In 2019, 23% of people living in Belgium were daily or occasional smokers, while in 2021, this figures sits at 27%, down from 29% in 2020, according to the most recent smoking survey published by the Foundation Against Cancer (Stichting tegen Kanker).
The survey highlights that the rising number of smokers has reversed years of a downward trend. When the survey was first conducted in 2013, 27% of the population smoked. This dropped to 20% in 2015 and 2017, but has overall increased again since.
Men are more likely to be daily smokers, while the largest group of smokers live in Brussels and Wallonia. The number of men aged 18 to 24 who smoke has increased in recent years.
During the crisis, the smoking habits of around 60% of smokers have also changed. Between 32 and 39% of smokers say they smoke more compared to the period before the coronavirus crisis, while only 16 to 20% say they smoke less.
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"The crisis thus has a greater influence on smoking habits than on alcohol consumption," the Foundation Against Cancer said.
Taxing tobacco companies
Earlier this year, the cost of a packet of cigarettes in Belgium became 25 cents more expensive as a result of increased tax duties on tobacco. In total, this increased excise on tobacco is expected to result in an additional income of €120 million.
However, in light of these findings, the Foundation is urgently calling for a new levy on tobacco companies to cover the costs caused by smoking.
"Legally, this is perfectly feasible, and Belgians are very receptive to this idea: 71% of respondents to the new smoking survey said they were in favour of such a levy," the Foundation stated.
Meanwhile, 68% of respondents said they should include a government message within the packaging. A total ban on the sale of tobacco products is supported by 40% of respondents.