Greek minister caught taking a puff tells EU official to butt out

ATHENS (Reuters) – Greece’s deputy health minister has told the European Union’s top health official to butt out after getting a reprimand for smoking in public.

FILE PHOTO: Greek Deputy Health Minister Pavlos Polakis (L) and Greek Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Terens Quick arrive for a cabinet meeting at the parliament in Athens, Greece July 19, 2017. REUTERS/Costas Baltas/File Photo

Deputy minister Pavlos Polakis was caught on video footage this week holding a cigarette while dancing in a club. He had also been photographed smoking at a news conference in 2016.

It drew a rebuke from EU Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis, who was in Athens to mark World Cancer Day.

Andriukaitis said the practice was “shameful”.

Polakis, who is also a surgeon, said he was dealing with more pressing issues at the ministry than smoking. “Learn before you speak,” Polakis wrote on his Facebook account in a post addressed to Andriukaitis.

“I’ll decide when to stop smoking, on my terms,” Polakis said.

Greece has the highest smoking rate in the European Union. It bans smoking in indoor public spaces, such as the nightclub where Polakis danced as red napkins fluttered around him.

The EU official, who was questioned by a daily newspaper frequently critical of the outspoken minister, also complained the health ministry smelt of cigarettes and that nobody wore ties.

“That’s a lie … the security guard at the entrance wore one. I don’t. It’s the suits which passed through here who bankrupted our country,” Polakis said.

His boss, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, also eschews ties. He briefly wore one last year after brokering an agreement with the country’s lenders on debt relief for the nation, which required three bailouts between 2010 and 2015.

Greece emerged from the bailout in August.

Reporting By Michele Kambas, Editing by William Maclean

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