A quarter of Belgian smokers don't want to quit

A quarter of Belgian smokers don't want to quit
People smoking at Rock Werchter. BELGA PHOTO CHRISTOPHE KETELS

One in seven people in Flanders smokes, according to a survey of 4,000 adults for the Prevention Barometer organised by the Sciensano public health institute. Whilst this is a lot less than in 2018, a quarter of smokers have no desire to quit.

Respondents were questioned on their consumption of alcohol, cannabis and tobacco – the latter of particular interest given that smoking leads to 14,000 deaths annually in Belgium and smokers live an average of 10 years less than non-smokers. As a result, the government wants to help people quit smoking.

There is an improvement in that 14.3% of respondents reported smoking in 2022 compared to the 18% that Sciensano noted in 2018. 13.8% smoked every day in 2018; that number has now dropped to 9%.

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There are more men than women who smoke and they are typically people who struggle financially. "It is true that people with a lower socio-economic status smoke more," Ann Gils of Come Against Cancer told De Standaard.

"Government campaigns are not reaching them. Raising the tobacco price substantially does work for this group, as does creating as many smoke-free places as possible. Seeing smoking makes people smoke."

A defiant group

A quarter of all smokers have already tried quitting, while four in ten want to quit within the year. However, a quarter of smokers say they don't want to quit.

"I fear that this group will continue to smoke," said Stefaan Hendricks of the Flemish Institute for Healthy Living in De Standaard. "Quitting smoking is a complex behavioural change. Smoking can be comforting or a remedy for boredom. Within a smoking culture, it can give a sense of belonging."

"In the most vulnerable group, smoking is part of a cycle that often involves mental or financial problems. Quitting is not a priority for them."

"They need help, using all the tools we have such as e-cigarettes, for example. It is not only a better alternative for smokers but also a cessation tool. That it is as harmful as cigarettes is not true at all."

"Belgium lacks a big campaign like Stoptober abroad: trying not to smoke for a month. The more times a person tries quitting, the more likely it is that they will eventually succeed."

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