Despite the previous year’s improvement in lowering the number of smokers, lung cancer is still one of the main causes of death in Hungary. In fact, the country ranks number one in the European Union for lung cancer deaths.
A new study released by Eurostat shows that, of 5.2 million deaths reported in the EU in 2015, a quarter (1.3 million) were due to cancer. Of those deaths, 273 400 were caused by lung cancer, including cancer of the trachea and bronchi. In other words, lung cancer was the main type of fatal cancer in the EU, accounting for over a fifth (21%) of all cancer-related deaths. Men were twice as likely to be affected as women: 184,600 men died of lung cancer, compared with 88,800 women.
Across the EU Member States, the share of lung cancer among all fatal cancers was highest in Hungary (27%), followed by Greece, Denmark, Poland and the Netherlands (all 24%), Belgium (23%) and the United Kingdom (22%).
The tobacco industry has long been at the center of debate and controversy in Hungary, and not just because of public health issues. After coming to power in 2010, the Fidesz government changed the entire sector by passing regulation known as the Trafiktörvény (Tobacco Shop Act). Despite criticism, the Orbán government pushed through the legislation, and created a permit based system, where only specialized shops could sell tobacco products: in effect, this has created a state-controlled monopoly. The reason that this law generated a significant backlash was that many regular store owners, who had generated significant income through cigarette sales, weren’t granted certifications to open a specialized tobacco shop known as a National Tobacco Shop (Nemzeti Dohánybolt).
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In 2013, Prime Minister Viktor Orban received an award from the OECD in recognition of his government’s efforts to tackle smoking in Hungary. They also released a case study about Hungarian anti-smoking regulations. This paper argued that, between 2012 and 2013, cigarette consumption decreased among adults from 12.3 billion to 8.3 billion and the rate of daily smokers decreased from 28% to 19%. Furthermore, the authors also believe that this was most likely due to combinations of the various tobacco-control measures introduced around that time. Many Hungarian newspaper, however, have questioned whether such regulations could direct effect countries’ smoking habits.
But smoking is far from the only health risk facing Hungarians. According to a 2017 OECD report, average life expectancy in the country is also lower than all of Hungary’s immediate neighbors with the exception of Romania. The report puts this gap down to cardiovascular disease and cancer rates. Hungary has significantly higher rates of smoking, obesity, and alcohol abuse than the EU average, despite a poverty and unemployment rate lower than the EU average.