Greeks are known as hardcore smokers who live in a country that doesn’t change habits easily, even if it is against the law. However, Greek-American businessman and philanthropist George D. Behrakis has started a ‘war’ against smoking in Greece that has already brought in results.
May 31, the “World No Tobacco Day”, is intended to encourage a 24-hour period of abstinence from all forms of tobacco consumption around the globe and raise awareness to negative health effects that currently lead to nearly 6 million deaths each year worldwide. George Behrakis, together with his cousin, pulmonologist Panayiotis Behrakis, have launched a campaign to fight smoking with programmes that span throughout the year.
Their actions to eliminate smoking in Greece started a few years ago when they established the George D. Behrakis Research Institute in Athens. The Institute has collaborated with Harvard University to implement the program HEART (Hellenic Action through Research Against Tobacco) to change the mentality of Greeks towards their favorite lethal habit, smoking.
HEART promotes research towards the hazardous effects of smoking and also creates awareness on these effects. The second leg of the program primarily targets schools in Greece and focuses on elementary school children to prepare them through special events so they never touch a cigarette.
The initiative has brought in results , especially in preventing kids from starting the lethal habit, but also is slowly reversing the Greek population’s behavior towards smoking. Although still high, Greece has seen the smoking rate in teens steadily declining together with general cigarette consumption.
“By starting with kids you also target the parents,” noted an elementary school teacher who took part in a ‘HEART event‘ at a school in Thessaloniki.
“When many of these kids go home, they start talking to their parents and asking them to quit smoking.”
This year, the Institute of Public Health of the American College of Greece is also organizing a series of lectures to support the HEART program (Hellenic Action for Research against Tobacco) through the Hellenic Cancer Society.
The series of lectures addressed to Medical Doctors, Psychologists, School Teachers, Scientists, and Health Professionals interested in Public Health will further raise awareness of ways to eliminate smoking. The Institute of Public Health is fully sponsored by the George D. Behrakis Foundation, in Boston, MA.
In a previous interview with the Greek Reporter, Dr. Panayiotis Behrakis had said that the laws to fight smoking exist in Greece, but the problem is that nobody implements them. “The most important thing is to get the government to enforce the anti-smoking ban in Greece, and I hope that the government will finally enforce the law.”
To learn more about the HEART program and George Behrakis’ efforts watch the interview below: