There aren’t many places in the touristic Greece where you see the locals NOT chain-smoking or the beachgoers without a cigarette in their hands, while sipping cocktails at the beach. When visiting the Mediterranean and the Balkan countries, locals deeply inhaling cigarettes, are part of a typical view. Greece, in fact, is ranked among the top countries with the highest rate of tobacco consumption in the continent.
But there is a different picture in Astypalaia, the small island in the Dodecanese, also known as “the butterfly of the south Aegean”, due to its shape on the map.
In a recent visit, my first one there to be honest, I didn’t see anyone smoking the traditional cigarettes.
Astypalaia is the first smoke-free island in the world, since 2018, certified by the independent organization, TÜV Austria. An initiative by the local authorities has been embraced by islanders, and tourists.
They encourage the visitors to quit smoking or use smokeless products, like the new innovative heating and not burning, smokeless technology, IQOS, by Philip Morris International. As strange as it may sound, the smoke-free island project is supported by the biggest Greek tobacco company, Papastratos, a local affiliate of Philip Morris.
“Now I am not a smoker, I used to be one. But I quit”, Nikos Komineas, the mayor of Astypalaia says, inviting a group of journalists from all over the world to embrace the well-being and a healthy quality life that the island offers; delectable food and numerous outdoor activities. He explains that the smoke-free campaign is setting an example, not only in Greece, but also in the world.
Astypalaia indeed has smoke-free beaches, restaurants and hotels, where islanders, at the same time business owners, have implemented the IQOS technology, by offering chargers and trays for the “Heets” butts, as well as the specific areas, as Michalis Vergoulis, owner of “Astypalea Palace” hotel explains.
There are less cigarette butts on the beaches and you aren’t bothered by someone next to you blowing smoke in your face.
This doesn’t mean that smokers are not welcome in Astypalaia. Mayor Komineas says that maybe by staying in a smoke-free island, they will make an important and life changing decision: quit smoking and embrace a healthier lifestyle.
And the fact that I saw zero people smoking traditional cigarettes makes me think that he is right and the smoke-free project is working.