Professor of Medicine Stanton Glantz, PhD was speaking at a symposium on tobacco control being held this week in Austria, which has consistently placed last place in the European Cancer League ‘tobacco ranking’ tables.
"Here in Vienna I feel as if I'm in a time machine, that has taken me 30 years back in the past," he said.
Glantz and other experts spoke about some of the benefits of implementing anti-smoking measures in a bid to encourage to Austria to follow suit.
Currently, smoking is banned in public places in Austria under a 2009 law but restaurants and cafes are exempted. A total ban on smoking inside is planned for Austria in 2018, although most other EU countries have already had similar laws for several years now.
Speaking about his home state of California, Glantz said they have seen cigarette uptake drop considerably since a ban on smoking was introduced.
“Twenty years ago around 25 percent of the population smoked. In the last year it was 11 to 12 percent. Most smokers smoke fewer than ten cigarettes a day, now five percent of a packet a day,” he said.
In comparison, Austria has extremely high smoking rates, particularly among 18-28 year olds, with 52 percent of men in that age group smoking, and 34 percent of women.
Glantz added the state has also seen a 15 to 20 percent reduction in heart attacks and strokes and saves around 234 million (213.53 million) in healthcare costs.
Compared to Austria's minimum age of 18 years old for cigarette sales, he said California's age restriction is 21 years.
Health officials from Hungary also spoke at the symposium about how a smoking ban was successfully implemented in their country in 2010.
As a result Hungary moved from 27 to 11 in the European tobacco ranking tables between 2010 and 2014, whereas Austria stayed in last place.
The Hungarian Minister of State for Health Miklós Szócska described the smoking ban as a policy that wins votes, adding: “Even 60 percent of smokers support the implementation.”
Critics in Austria say, however, that the smoking ban will infringe on people’s freedom and damage small businesses such as restaurant and cafes.
Correction: An earlier version of this article described Glantz as an oncologist. He is in fact a Professor of Medicine, with a distinguished career in anti-tobacco activism.