Hungarian physicians will also own tobacconist shops

Can you imagine C. Everett Koop, surgeon general of the United States between 1982 and 1989, refusing to take a stand on the question of smoking? Something like that happened in Hungary the other day when István Éger, president of the Hungarian Medical Association, refused to take sides on the question of whether it is ethical for a physician to own a tobacconist shop or shops. He claimed that “the question is too controversial.” He explained that, after all, owning a tobacconist shop “doesn’t mean that the physician will be sitting at the cash register.”  So, according to the author of the article that appeared in Index, “the Hungarian Medical Association doesn’t consider it inappropriate for a physician to profit from selling a product that can have devastating effects on his patients’ health.” By way of explanation Éger said the following, which the reporter found incomprehensible. “A healthy lifestyle is an important part of everybody’s life and Hungary is a pioneer in limiting tobacco use. It would be best for everybody if there were no tobacconist shops at all, but since that is not the case, we don’t want to take sides.”

I will try to shed some light on what might be behind the very cautious, perhaps even cowardly stance of the Hungarian Medical Association. First of all, quite a few physicians and their relatives won twenty-year concessions for tobacconist shops. By now it is an open secret that local Fidesz politicians decided who would have the opportunity  to operate a National Tobacconist Shop. The decision was based primarily on whether the applicant was a Fidesz supporter. And the percentage of Fidesz supporters within the medical community is extraordinary high. I might point out that traditionally the medical profession has been attracted to the political right. One mustn’t forget that the idea of the notorious numerus clausus was hatched at the medical school of Budapest in 1920.

Some of the doctors who received permission to operate tobacconist shops are rather important political actors within the medical profession. Most likely they would have raised hell with Éger had he taken a stronger stand. As it is, Éger’s position at the moment is rather shaky.

And finally, my hunch is that far too many physicians still smoke. The huge debate about smoking that occurred in the U.S.  in the 1970s has not yet been settled in Hungary.

It is true that smoking has decreased somewhat among men in the last ten years or so, but the number of women smokers has risen by 1% every year. I might add here that getting reliable and detailed data on smoking in Hungary is rather difficult. One problem when it comes to comparing data, let’s say, between Hungary and the United States is that while the U.S. numbers refer to the population of 18 years and over, most Hungarian data I found talked about smokers age 15 and over! According to a fairly recent summary published by the National Public Health and Medical Officer Service (ÁNTSZ), since 2009 the number of male smokers under 65 decreased by 2% but among those over 65 it grew by 2%. In any case, the percentage of smokers in the 15+ population is very high. It is noteworthy that Hungary has the highest death rate due to lung cancer of any country in the world.

swayzesghost.wordpress.com

swayzesghost.wordpress.com

I tried to find data on the percentage of smokers among Hungarian physicians, to no avail. In fact, no such data exist according to The Tobacco Atlas. But here are a few European statistics that are available. In France 34.6% of physicians smoke,  in Poland 76.8%, in Ukraine 33.1%, in Germany 27.5%. The number in the United States is 3.3% and in Canada  6.0%. Let’s assume, extrapolating from these figures, that perhaps a third of all Hungarian doctors smoke. This figure would match the smoking habits of Americans who didn’t even finish high school. And we know that normally there is a high correlation between educational attainment and smoking.

Naturally I find it appalling that Hungarian doctors can have a handsome second income stream selling tobacco products. One might counter that Hungarian doctors are very poorly paid and therefore one mustn’t be very surprised that they grabbed at this business opportunity. But I found at least two obstetricians among the recipients. Obstetrics is the most lucrative medical specialty in Hungary. A childbirth, theoretically free, usually costs $400-500. This money goes straight into the doctor’s pocket, hidden from the prying eyes of the tax man. If estimates are correct, the tobacco shops (which seem to be expanding in the direction of convenience stores) will be equally profitable if not more so. And, after all, business is business.

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40 comments

  1. Why is anyone amazed?
    Do you know those two-faced paintings by Picasso? Well, it was a Hungarian who modeled for it!

    Hungarian ethics and morals in a nutshell–Doctors as cigarette salesmen!!!

  2. The World Of Hungaricum:

    “Schmidt Pal declares that his dignity (sic) has been returned”.

    Apparently, the court has found that it was not Schmidt Pal who had wronged but the University! The moral slip-slide…unique to
    Magyarok.

    Does anyone still wonder why institutions, in Hungary, mean hardly anything?

  3. Can anyone tell me what other country has dared similarly to bad-mouth Democracy and Institution-building in the 21st Century?

    Hungary and Hungarians….leading the world again….

  4. tappanch :
    Nationalist Tobacco kills too.

    Yeah, but then you have a chance to dig your own grave too – according to the Interior Ministry – or dress up your loved ones when they passed away.

    I look forward to see the ‘National Grave-Digger’ badge before long..!

  5. After the tobacco monopoly, when will the Fidesz drug cartel introduce “National Dope Shops”?

  6. Oh, yes, Pal Schmitt even made a public announcement. Here is a copy in Hungarian:

    http://on.fb.me/13qxl5F

    Our PhD boy made only one glaring grammatical error in it. He said his “honor was restored” and he misspelled restored (“helyre állt”). Yes. It’s the school’s fault that your dumb as hell …

    @tappanch “National Dope Shops” Yesss! I was thinking the same thing! Now that you can legally break the Cheetos and the Goldfish in Colorado, why not? They lifted the regulations on palinka (moonshine) and the Fidesz support is still only hovering around 30%. They could give hash bar licenses to the faithful and the extra tourism would generate a sizable extra revenue. My next idea would be prostitution. The sky is the limit.

    Obstetrics is and always was the most expensive in term of bakshish given to doctors. The bustards intentionally scare the shit out of women, so they can be present for a small fee at the birth. It’s a mafia. Midwives included.

    Not all of them though. When we had the first kid in the 80s in Budapest the doctor did not accept the money I offered. Now I was scared as hell. Will the kid survive? Then all went good. My in-laws were farmers on the south. They were growing yellow peppers. My mother-in-law brought a huge basket filled with yellow peppers. In the 80s Hungary, a basketful of crispy yellow peppers in May (!) represented a small fortune for a city dweller. I somehow figured out the docs home address and showed up at the door. Only the wife was home. They had at least 4 small children I couldn’t count. The lady almost cried. Her kids never ate fresh peppers in their whole life before. They could not afford it. She didn’t let me go until she can give me some worn baby cloths they didn’t need anymore. Now I cried, I think …

    By the way I wanted to be present at the birth. But it was so much fuss to get the permission. You had go to classes during business hours, yadiyada. I didn’t do it.

    So, in contrast the third one was born in France. The time came 4am in the morning. I drove the gurl to the hospital. No doctor. Midwife goes: “Hey, here is your chair”. She was tending to 2 women at the same time. The whole thing was very professional but no doctor, only a midwife. Then she turned to me and went “Do you want to see it?” … Ummm “Bien sûr”. So she gave me a towel and put my son a few minutes later in my arms, frothy and all. Missus needed a few stitches, this was only time when a doctor showed up. All good. No money involved.

    And while we are at it, let me call your attention again to the living proof of the stuck in the mud, corrupt, Hungarian health care system. Please follow the story of Agnes Gereb, the pioneer of home birth in Hungary.

    http://www.freeagnesgereb.com

  7. If you have a garden here you’ll know how well poppies grow, and opium poppies are one of Hungary’s oldest cash crops (exported to Ancient Egypt, no less). Obviously it would be unethical and irresponsible to let people buy hard drugs to consume at home, but why not license opium dens, franchised to Fidesz-supporting doctors to ensure proper medical (and political) supervision?

  8. @lutra

    A small correction: when ancient Egypt existed, Hungary did not.

    Because there is no record about the geographical area that is now Hungary
    before the Roman conquest, your modified claim could be that there was
    opium export from Pannonia to Egypt during the Roman Empire.

    Could you give me a piece of reference?

    Actually legalized and taxed marijuana would attract a lot of tourists from abroad,
    and would improve the budget significantly.

    http://stopthedrugwar.org/speakeasy/2007/nov/29/marijuana_better_your_lungs_toba

    Disclaimer: I have never had a cigarette in my mouth – whether filled with tobacco or with any other drug – so I am impartial in the debate whether cannabis or tobacco is more harmful.

  9. The Hungarian national debt has increased by 4.3% in the first quarter of 2013.

    It stands at 82.2% of the GDP. (Plus the 10.5% private retirement funds taken over and used up by the Orban government)

    http://www.mnb.hu/Root/Dokumentumtar/MNB/Statisztika/mnbhu_statisztikai_idosorok/mnbhu_hazt5/ahtadatok2_hu.xls

    http://www.mnb.hu/Root/Dokumentumtar/MNB/Statisztika/mnbhu_statkozlemeny/mnbhu_allamhaztartas_es_haztartasok_pu_szamlai/mnbhu_kozlemeny_SK_PSZLA_ELOZETES_2013_Q1.pdf

  10. @Tappanch:
    What Mrs Merkel really said (in German):
    http://de.reuters.com/article/domesticNews/idDEBEE94F04M20130516

    It’s not as positive as the Hungarian press would have you believe – she wants to give Orbán a chance to change some laws …

    On the other hand our Social Democrats are much more aggressive on Hungary – you either behave or get thrown out of the EU!

    Maybe I’ll have more time later – right now I have to care for our visitors, it’s a holiday you know … (even if I’m not a Christian or other god-fearing type …)

  11. Another Latin saying that is highly relevant to the Fidesz Law Factory:

    “Corruptissima re publica plurimae leges”.

    In the most corrupt state are the most laws (Terence)

  12. @wolfi

    Mrs Merkel has already given three years to Orban and he has not changed any significant measures in his quest to rule Hungary absolutely.

    She just gives more opportunity to Orban to solidify his tyrannical system.

    Orban wants the net 4.5 billion euro support a year from the EU, and his friends skim this money (think of Kozgep).

    So he can be compelled to roll back his system only through the purse.

  13. @ tappanch

    “So he can be compelled to roll back his system only through the purse.”

    Wrong.
    He cannot be compelled to roll back at all.

    When will people realize that he is one sick mug bent on creating havoc
    and destruction?

    Felcsutian Revenge…no less.

  14. Half of the doctors smoke in Hungary. What is this a surprise? Go to a Hungarian hospital and check out the smoking areas, you’ll see.

    The tobacco tender (trafik) issue is a non-issue by the way, it is pounded only by an opposition media, which reaches no more than 1m voters (out of 8m) and who would anyway not vote for Orbán.

    This supposed scandal never crossed over the average joes who absolutely don’t give a damn until they can get their tobacco somewhere. Sorry.

  15. Petrovics : May 16, 2013 at 5:45 pm | #3 Quote
    Can anyone tell me what other country has dared similarly to bad-mouth Democracy and Institution-building in the 21st Century?

    Hungary and Hungarians….leading the world again…”

    Why don’t you post this on the Anti-Hungarian Spectrum? Hmmm may that is where you posted…..

  16. @Grom: “This supposed scandal never crossed over the average joes who absolutely don’t give a damn until they can get their tobacco somewhere. Sorry.”

    I disagree with you. This is local affair and in smaller communities this is a big story. Everybody knows everybody and they know who is related to whom and who got what and why.

    In addition, just wait until instead of 40,000 places that sell cigarettes there will be only 5,000. I heard a caller (Klubrádió) who told us that in his own locality in Budapest there are currently eleven places that sell tobacco products. From July 1 there will be only one! You will hear the screaming. From Fidesz’s point of view I think it was a big mistake. It takes more votes away than it brings.

  17. Something just crossed my mind:

    If the government “guarantees” 10 % to the new licencees what will that mean for the prices ?

    @Tomaasj:

    And how many buy their cigarettes at their doctor’s ?
    A sure way to make money – first sell the people something that makes them sick (at a profit margin guaranteed by the state …) and then take the rest of their money to (maybe) treat their sickness …

    OT: My first wife died from lung cancer – she was a heavy smoker when I met her and I couldn’t turn her away from it, however hard I tried, she only switched to “light” cigarettes, but that of course meant nothing …

    @Louis:
    Yes, Anti Hungarian Spectrum – a splendid idea!
    And that’s why you comment here ?
    The others are all “Nestbeschmutzer” …

  18. Wolfi:If the government “guarantees” 10 % to the new licencees what will that mean for the prices?

    The prices will be going sky high. Currently, they make around HUF 40 per package, so if HUF 40 is equal to 4% (I believe that is not the case, the percentage is lower) than the price will go up at least HUF 100 per package (including taxes). A package will be around HUF 1,000.

    Currently, there is about 20% black market. The black market will go up with x% and as the government guaranteed 10% they have to increase the prices again or pay out a compensation to the new licencees.

  19. Louis Kovach :
    Petrovics : May 16, 2013 at 5:45 pm | #3 Quote
    Can anyone tell me what other country has dared similarly to bad-mouth Democracy and Institution-building in the 21st Century?
    Hungary and Hungarians….leading the world again…”
    Why don’t you post this on the Anti-Hungarian Spectrum? Hmmm may that is where you posted…..

    @ Louis,

    When you’ve stand up for Decency and Right–when you join the call to the Hungarian government to stop besmirching the dignity of all Hungarians by turning Laszlo Csatary over to the Slovaks to face justice–then I’ll try to ease up on you sad-sack, Hungarian, Turul birds.

  20. “A healthy lifestyle is an important part of everybody’s life and Hungary is a pioneer in limiting tobacco use.”

    Not from what I can read, for example here: https://www.facebook.com/szabadeliquid/app_137541772984354

    But this is not a uniquely Hungarian phenomemon. Stupidly and sadly, the EU, which these Hungarian vapers (e-cigarette users, like me) would like to petition, is aiming to bring in identical, EU-wide legislation, in the revision to the Tobacco Products Directive. This would make e-cigarettes regulated as pharmaceuticals, requiring enormously expensive (and misdirected – how do you test something as a pharmaceutical when it makes no claims to effectiveness as a medicine?) certification, and effectively making them uncompetitive as an alternative to cigarettes.

    What does seem unique to Hungary is the additional, parallel measure of monopolising tobacco sales. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that this will make cigarettes more expensive, and e-cigarettes more attractive. I can’t see any sense in the clampdown on e-cigarette equipment, except to guarantee the income of tobacco concession-holders.

    But the refusal to even entertain a harm-reduction approach to tobacco, rather than heroically pushing a total-prohibition approach (doomed to failure), is not a uniquely Hungarian stupidity – it’s worldwide.

  21. “And finally, my hunch is that far too many physicians still smoke.”

    Yes and in the open, actually in the hospital. And that is not a hunch, I have seen and smelt it personally.

    Anyway, can’t help but smile at who has got our local smokes tender in District 7.
    Up until 2 weeks ago, it was the only sex shop this side of the korut.
    I do wonder how the owners of that particuliar establishment managed to *satisfy* the local Fidesz mafia that they would prove to be honourable suppliers of tobacco to the local plebs.

  22. Don O., capo di tutti capi on the tobacco licenses on May 17, 2013:

    “szelíd ember vagyok, tehát nem fenyegetőzésképpen mondom, de hogy ha mi egyszer politikai szempontokat akarnánk egy ilyen pályázati rendszerben érvényesíteni, ott egy, azaz egyetlen baloldali sem nyerne”

    My lame translation:

    I am sweet-tempered, so I am not threatening anyone, but if we wanted to declare winners in tenders according to the bidders’ political views, then not a single left-winger would win.

    His radio monologue today was one of the most outrageous, bare-knuckled declaration of the fact that Hungary has become a tyranny.

  23. On Politics.hu by Erik D’Amato
    http://www.politics.hu/20130517/if-viktor-orban-wanted-to-he-could-crush-you-like-an-ant-but-he-wont-because-hes-chill/

    Among many other things, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said this morning on his weekly radio interview that the widespread allegations of political favoritism in the awarding of tobacco-retailing licenses are misplaced, and that his government is unwilling to postpone the signing of contracts with the winners of tenders to see who gets to sell smokes in the country.

    While this was to be expected, he also said something that was a bit more surprising. Since I don’t want to be accused of misquoting the prime minister, I will use the translation of state newswire MTI:

    “I am a mild-mannered person, so I am not saying this to threaten anyone, but if we wanted to enforce political considerations in such a tender, there would be not a single left-wing winner.”

    Got that?

  24. Sorry tappach did not see your lame translation first.

    But I agree with your assessment of the situation. VO admits that he is a dictator.

    Unbelievable.

  25. tappanch :
    Don O., capo di tutti capi on the tobacco licenses on May 17, 2013:
    “szelíd ember vagyok, tehát nem fenyegetőzésképpen mondom, de hogy ha mi egyszer politikai szempontokat akarnánk egy ilyen pályázati rendszerben érvényesíteni, ott egy, azaz egyetlen baloldali sem nyerne”
    My lame translation:
    I am sweet-tempered, so I am not threatening anyone, but if we wanted to declare winners in tenders according to the bidders’ political views, then not a single left-winger would win.
    His radio monologue today was one of the most outrageous, bare-knuckled declaration of the fact that Hungary has become a tyranny.

    Why isn’t anyone asking His Almighty Highness just how he knows of the political views of the winners, in a – allegedly – democracy?

    One other thing: did anyone else noticed, that in the same speech he used the expression “our worshippers” repeatedly, in regard of his followers..!

    Is there a doctor in da house?

  26. wolfi :
    Something just crossed my mind:
    If the government “guarantees” 10 % to the new licencees what will that mean for the prices ?

    Another interesting aspect:
    When Lázár reacted upon some interpellation another day, defending the profit-margin raise, he said among other things, “.. but at least, the profit goes to Hungarian shop-owners..”
    – As opposed to?
    Are we – again – in the situation, where even a tobacconist has to prove that he/she indeed a Hungarian?

    What’s next, mr.Lázár?
    Shouldn’t they also prove their race, religion, sexual orientation too, in order to be able to sell cigarettes?

  27. Ron: “But I agree with your assessment of the situation. VO admits that he is a dictator.”

    And yet it would suffice if people just realised that the emperor has no clothes.

  28. I do hope that the tobacco issue crossed over, but compared to what Fidesz would have created from a similar situation, what we have seen from the opposition is less than insufficient. Why are they so impotent even when presented with such a God-sent opportunity to attack Fidesz?

    Plus, Orbán’s approach supports the thesis that he (his pals and political advisors) unanimously believe that they can nicely get away with it.

    They have not conceded an inch to any critics and will close the deal in time.

    Apart from anecdotal evidence, no polling suggest a loss of confidence in Orbán (although I am highly sceptical about the possibility of being able to conduct a representative poll at all in Hungary), which in itself would not even mean anything (given the election system, he can afford to lose a lot of popularity from his current position).

  29. @GROM

    “Why are they so impotent even when presented with such a God-sent opportunity to attack Fidesz?”

    Well, try this on for size: perhaps the MSZP crooks are happy with their cut of the HUGE pie that Fidesz has fashioned for themselves. Better the crook you know than the reformer
    who’ll bar you….ie. Gyurcsany, Bajnai.

    I suspect that the background powers in MSZP are happy to piggy-back on the massive
    corruption of Fidesz/Orban…

  30. Petrovics: “When you’ve stand up for Decency and Right–when you join the call to the Hungarian government to stop besmirching the dignity of all Hungarians by turning Laszlo Csatary over to the Slovaks to face justice–then I’ll try to ease up on you sad-sack, Hungarian, Turul birds.”

    You nearly always generalize anything bad or disliked by you event or cause in Hungary to the entire Hungarian nation. This is similar to what was practiced by Hitler, Stalin and their ilk.

    I ma sure all those who believe in “collective” guilt are greatly enjoying your postings.

  31. I think that ALL tobacco products should be banned outright.

    Having said that, your article is very misleading because the question is not about smoking, but about ownership of businesses producing or selling tobacco products.

    Your blind hatred towards Orban makes you look really stupid.

    Any reasonable person can see the difference between supporting smoking owning businesses that sell tobacco products.

    I am sure that ALL physicians in USA including the Surgeon General have in their investment portfolio companies that produce or sell tobacco, as it is almost impossible to have a balanced portfolio without having stocks of many retailers, gas stations, hotels etc.

    Next time try something better!

  32. ” the percentage of Fidesz supporters within the medical community is extraordinary high. I might point out that traditionally the medical profession has been attracted to the political right. One mustn’t forget that the idea of the notorious numerus clausus was hatched at the medical school of Budapest in 1920.”

    Are you joking? Are you dragging in the events a century ago?

    BTW, if you already mentioned the discrimination, let you remind that until THREE MONTHS AGO THE SLAVERY STILL EXISTED LEGALLY In USA

    Until February 7, 2013, the state of Mississippi had never submitted the required documentation to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment, meaning it never officially had abolished slavery.

  33. besmart, I’m warning you again. I don’t like to be called “stupid.” Slow down because otherwise you will be not contributing to Hungarian Spectrum.

  34. When a doctor takes a tobacco license he robs several families of their livelihood, and he knows it.

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