The Czech Republic has been reluctant to tackle smoking. When we lived here seven years ago there was an add on a bus-stop bench I was at with some frequency that said, “Europe is giving up smoking; Czechia isn’t?”
And they had a point.
Then-president Václav Klaus was not a big fan of higher taxes on cigarettes or of rules about where smoking might be legal. For him it was an issue of freedom and rights, rather overlooking the rights of a nonsmoker to get a job in a restaurant without sacrificing her pulmonary health.
Since then, they’ve made some progress. Smoking in bars and restaurants has now been banned, which has prompted a huge boom in sidewalk seating outside bars and restaurants since the last time we were here.
A couple weeks ago I even saw an entire outdoor seating area with several customers, and none of them smoking! It was as if people just liked eating outside with the pleasant background of a lively street.
Then about a week ago, an image behind the counter at a neighborhood grocery store caught my eye. I looked more closely, and realized it was on a pack of cigarettes, meant to be disturbing and dissuade you from smoking.
A few days later I saw some packs at a grocery store and had the presence of mind to shoot them with my phone. Some of the pictures came out blurry, but I got a couple of OK ones.
Here’s a picture of a rather unwell woman, with a text explaining that, “Smoking damages your lungs.”
This next one’s somewhat out of focus but you can still more or less tell what happened as a result of the unfortunate fact that, “Smoking clogs your arteries.”
But the one that had really caught my attention was all out of focus. I needed to do better.
Yesterday morning I went into the neighborhood grocery store to buy some tea for my office. After I paid, I asked the man at the counter if I could photograph the cigarette packs. “Our packaging in the U.S. is different—we don’t have these images on them.” But he was not game.
It seemed like we were perhaps not understanding each other, neither of us functioning in our native language (he was Vietnamese). But the overall tenor of his reaction really was sufficiently clear: he was not comfortable having me film the cigarette cartons in his shop. I thanked him and went on my way.
My next stop was a “tabák,” a store that sells newspapers, magazines, sweets, lottery tickets—and cigarettes. It was Monday, so I bought my weekly copy of Respekt, then explained to the man behind the counter that we didn’t have cigarette cartons like these in the U.S., and would it be OK if I took some pictures of them?
He was very agreeable. I paused our conversation repeatedly as customers came in buying this or that pack of cigarettes, and occasionally a newspaper - I thought it would have been rude to be sharing jocular remarks about graphic images on cigarette packaging while people were trying to mind their own business of killing themselves slowly.
First I got this overall shot of a variety of warning pictures.
The image from the bottom right is worth focusing in on.
Is that a silhouette of a fetus in an ashtray, with a cigarette being snuffed out on it?
Why yes, I think it is.
At any rate, I know that the text tells you that, “Smoking reduces fertility.” (And all for the low, low price of 112 crowns, or about $5.50.)
I still didn’t see the one that had first caught my attention. “Do you have any that have..." and I told him what I was looking for.
“Oh, yeah, that one’s my favorite.” The proprietor looked around and pulled out the package I wanted. He was even so helpful as to hold it for me while I took the picture—it’s no fault of his that my image came out poorly focused.
For the most part, Czech words are built on Slavic roots, rather than the German and Romance roots that dominate English, so there’s usually not much for a non-Czech-speaker from the English world to hold onto when trying to puzzle out a piece of Czech text. But in this case, the last word does in fact mean what you think it means.
“Smoking increases the risk of impotence.”
The proprietor was laughing as he put the item back on the shelf. “I had a customer in here. She said, ‘That doesn’t look like impotence. That looks like my husband when he hasn’t had his supper.’”
Rim shot a-a-a-nd, we're done here.