Amid rising nicotine use, Czechia grapples with ways to discourage smoking

With half of young people in Czechia using nicotine-related products, the Health Ministry has proposed schemes to reward good behavior and discourage bad. Staff

Written by Staff Published on 29.05.2024 12:39:00 (updated on 29.05.2024) Reading time: 3 minutes

A new study by the National Health Institute (SZÚ) has mapped out Czechia’s smoking habits, revealing that as many as half of all Czechs use nicotine-related products semi-regularly. The findings come at at time when Minister of Health Vlastimil Válek is considering implementing more so-called vice taxes while rewarding those who take care of their health.

The SZÚ findings revealed that one-third of young Czechs aged 15 to 24 use nicotine products on a daily basis, including traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and nicotine sachets. One-quarter of the adult population smokes "normal" cigarettes regularly.

Rising and risky e-cigarette use

One of the most concerning findings of the survey, Válek says, was that a large number of young people who use alternative nicotine products believe that they are totally unharmful. Válek said: "If someone is a heavy smoker, it's definitely better they switch to less dangerous alternatives. However, they cannot be considered safe."

While smoking traditional cigarettes has long been linked to an increased risk of lung cancer, the effects of e-cigarettes are still being researched. SZÚ director Barbora Macková stated that the research has only been short-term, but has shown a negative impact on the heart and possibly causing gastrointestinal cancer. 

"I appeal to mothers and fathers, to help us explain to children and teenagers that nicotine is a poison, quickly causes addiction, and promotes the development of cancer, even if [young people] get it into their bodies with a seemingly harmless electronic cigarette or a flavored nicotine pouch."

Minister of Health Vlastimil Válek

The survey also revealed that the proportion of e-cigarette users has significantly increased, from 1 percent a decade ago to 11 percent last year. Among these users, 30 percent were never smokers of traditional cigarettes, showing a concerning trend of young people being introduced to nicotine through alternative products.

The survey also highlighted the prevalence of alcohol consumption in Czechia, with almost half of men drinking beer once a week or more and a quarter of women drinking wine as often. The average (pure) alcohol consumption in the country is 6.9 liters per person per year, with a higher frequency also registered among smokers.

Ways to discourage vices

Válek said Tuesday that he supports further tax increases on nicotine products and alcoholic beverages, with a focus on taxing the latter based on their alcohol content. Earlier this year, he also expressed his support for a tax on sugary drinks if proposed by the Finance Ministry – he wants to introduce a tax of CZK 3.4 on drinks with a sugar content of more than 50 grams per liter.

Czechia's smoking vices: fast facts

  • Almost 20 percent of deaths in Czechia are linked to smoking
  • Half of all 15 to 24-year-olds use nicotine-related products, one-third of which use them daily
  • Six percent of people use electronic cigarettes daily
  • Over 10 percent of people use nicotine sachets, or pouches, regularly
  • Around six in 10 e-cigarette smokers say they smoke due to flavor

Another proposed solution to reducing alcohol consumption is to abolish the zero excise duty on still wine. While some members of the government coalition support this, Labor Minister Marian Jurečka does not see a majority in parliament for taxing still wine.

The government has already bumped up the prices of some products in a bid to both discourage harmful health-related behavior and generate revenue. As part of the government's austerity package in 2023, the state raised value-added tax (VAT) on soft drinks: from 15 to 21 percent. Draft beer also saw a large jump – from 10 percent VAT to 21 percent. 

Rewarding good behavior, punishing bad

The Ministry of Health aims to increase so-called prevention funds, which aim to encourage health-beneficial measures, for health insurance companies. These include schemes such as exercise classes or rehabilitation programs. This would give insurance companies a bigger role in promoting preventive activities. 

Insured individuals would need to participate in programs set up by their insurance company to receive payments and draw benefits from the prevention fund. Critics, however, say that this is a costly solution that does not guarantee reducing unhealthy behavior.

In turn, Válek has also raised a proposal that would allow health insurance companies to seek reimbursement from individuals who have caused medical harm through illegal actions.

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