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Greek American philanthropist targets smoking

Businessman and philanthropist George Behrakis is dedicated to one mission over the past few years - to save the children of from illnesses caused by smoking.

The pharmacist and researcher from Lowell, Massachusetts decided to dedicate a great portion of his time to and from Greece over the last six after having witnessed young girls aged 11 and 12 being handed free cigarettes in school.

"Due to the demonstrations taking place in the centre of Athens I stayed in a small hotel in Kifissia.

"One morning I took a walk around the area and I happened to walk past a school where I witnessed two women in black giving young girls free cigarettes," Mr Behrakis told US omogeneia publication Ethnikos Kirikas.

"I called my cousin Panagioti Behrakis, a pulmonary physician and lecturer at the and asked him what was going on.

"Does the government allow people to give out cigarettes to young girls and boys? We have to do something."

With the knowledge that up to 80 per cent of lung cancer is by smoking, Mr Behrakis was outraged at what he had witnessed; recognising the negative implications this would have on the future of the children and the country's healthcare system.

Since then, the philanthropist has reached out to the prestigious Harvard University and the Hellenic Cancer Society, and has spent more than $10,000 of his own.

The campaign against smoking aims to encourage the children of Greece to stop smoking, or better yet, deter them from ever trying it.

In addition to the lectures he has introduced to , Mr Behrakis has also self-funded and published a series of small booklets entitled 'The truth about smoking'.

With a simple and easy to read format, the series covers vital information about the risks associated with smoking with topics including 'Education for a world without smoking' and 'I learn so that I don't smoke'.

In addition to educating the very young, the campaign is also aimed at adolescents who smoke and in particular pregnant women.

The philanthropist has published a self-help guide for women trying to quit smoking during their pregnancy, with the cover bearing the photograph of a young mother kissing her newborn child entitled 'Because I love you I don't smoke'.