A third of Croatian school-age children are smokers, and Croatia ranks third in Europe when it comes to the prevalence of this problem in society, said the participants of a roundtable discussion recently organised by the Croatian Institute of Public Health (HZJZ).
During the discussion held in Zagreb, doctors supported the planned rise in excise taxes on alcoholic beverages and cigarettes, as they believe that higher prices will make those products less available to pupils.
On the other hand, the Croatian Employers' Association (HUP) insists that the higher prices of alcohol and cigarettes, the more prevalent the illegal sale of such products will be.
Ivana Pavic Simetin of the HZJZ presented some of the alarming statistics such as the fact that 4% of boys and 1% of girls have gotten drunk at least twice so far in their life.
Pavic Simetin spoke about the importance of making cigarettes and alcoholic drinks less available to underage buyers.
"The HZJZ is not focused on a rise in income but on safeguarding public health against smoking and alcohol, having in mind the fact that the availability of alcohol and cigarettes to young people is 10% higher in Croatia than in other EU member states," she said.
The ESPAD European survey on smoking and alcohol and drugs consumption among the youth in 2015 shows that one in three Croatians below the age of 16 is a smoker, and 54.7% of those in this age cohort drank alcohol in the past 30 days.
Danijela Stimac of the HZJZ warned that in Croatian cafes a shot of brandy costs 6 Kuna and a glass of freshly squeezed juice 25 Kuna.
Of all EU member states, Croatia has the second lowest tobacco prices after Bulgaria, HZJZ director-general Krunoslav Capak noted.
Furthermore, in Croatia 25% of the population smokes on a daily basis, twice as much as in Finland, for instance, said Ivana Brkic Bilos of the HZJZ department for epidemiology and prevention of noncommunicable chronic diseases.
"Alcohol as a risk factor has been identified in more than 200 different diseases. Worldwide, 3,3 million deaths are believed to be linked to alcohol consumption, and in Croatia 3,000 deaths (annually). Smoking is believed to be the cause of seven million deaths in the world annually, and in Croatia, every fifth death is linked to smoking," she said.
HUP officials said that in principle they are opposed to increasing prices of such products as they usually lead to the creation of a grey market.