By Ru Ge
COPENHAGEN, July 27 (Xinhua) -- Smoking is a common phenomenon in Denmark, especially in Copenhagen. Whenever I walk around in a prosperous area of Copenhagen, where there are lots of people gathering, the smell of cigarettes is everywhere. One can often see beautiful blonde girls who wear stylish black jackets, tight leather jeans, and exquisite makeup taking out cigarettes from cases, skillfully lighting them and holding them in their mouth. Sometimes after a smoker takes a few puffs, his or her friends will pick up where they left off, grab the half-smoked cigarette and continue to smoke on it. It's a way of socializing for young people in Denmark, and I see it quite often.
According to a recent survey conducted by the State Institute of Public Health, 46% of Danish upper-secondary students smoke either daily or occasionally.
Not only young people smoke, but also older people too. In Copenhagen, I've seen people of all age groups smoke. Some are middle aged women and men aged 40 or 50 years old. Some others are senior citizens apparently over age 70.
Because of the popularity of smoking, cigarettes have a huge market. In almost every convenient store such as 7-11 and netto, there's a glass-fronted showcase beside the cashier storing different brands of cigarettes. Although prices might vary, what is shockingly common is that there is a horrifying warning picture painted on all the cigarette cases, and beside them there is one sentence explaining one of the harmful effects of smoking. One reads "Rygning øger risikoen for blindhed" which means smoking increases the risk of blindness, and under the sentence, their is a huge muddy eye without any gloss, representing blindness caused by heavy smoking.
Another one (which is even more scary than the blind eye) is a foot with a disgusting black scar on it. The explanation is "Rygning er årsag til areforkalkning" which means smoking is the cause of atherosclerosis. In addition to these two, there are also pictures of "black lungs", "diseased heart," "damaged teeth and gums", "sick mothers accompanied by young children", and so on.
But no matter how shocking these pictures and explanations are, and no matter how drastically the potential consequences are laid out for the public, there are still lots of people buying cigarettes from time to time. According to Bjarne Hastrup, the author of Social Welfare-The Danish Model, there were 24% of Danish men and 22% of Danish women smoking in 2008. Although the percentages were already much lower than in 1995, when 44% men and 39% women were daily smokers, the problem is still quite severe.
Some might wonder why so many Danish people have become occasional or daily smokers. As far as I can see there are a few reasons behind this phenomenon.
First of all, for Danish people, especially Danish youth, smoking is a way of being cool and sexy. For boys, they think their masculinity will be shown when they smoke. For girls, they think it's really sexy just like when Marilyn Monroe smokes.
Secondly, it's a way to socialize and fit in a new group in Denmark. When people offer a cigarette to a new friend, of course he/she has the right to decline, but if one refuses, it's difficult to join the conversation with those smoking because they may think that person does not fit in with the group. So I've seen quite a few of my Danish friends who were nonsmokers before, gradually becoming occasional smokers and finally being addicted to smoking and finding it difficult to get rid of the habit after that.
Thirdly, some think it's a way to get rid of tiredness and exhaustion, especially after a long school and working day. Smoking helps them to refresh themselves.
In addition, it's a part of Danish party culture. Danish people drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes during parties. A few girls and boys from Copenhagen University told me that they are a perfect combination and taste well together.
The above mentioned reasons are the primary factors behind Danish people's smoking habits.
The Danish government has realized the harmful effects of smoking on the well-being of people, so they have come up with various ways to restrict it.
In 2007, Denmark's previous government banned smoking in public places like schools, trains, cafés and restaurants over a certain size.
In Aarhus, the second largest city in Denmark, employees are banned from smoking during working hours. Because of the government's efforts, and the gradual improvement of the Danes' health consciousness, about 425,000 people have quit since 2008.
One of my friends who majors in Chinese studies in Copenhagen University told me that she started smoking since she was 15, but right now she has quit it because she wants to live a healthy lifestyle. I believe that there will be more people like her in the future, and one day this idyllic Kingdom will move toward being smoke-free.