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We have measured the rate of escape out of the zero-voltage state in Josephson tunnel junctions as a function of the applied magnetic field. A marked difference is found in the behaviour of long and small junctions. In all cases, the statistical distribution of the switching currents can be described using a Kramers model for the escape process, where the barrier to be overcome is the Josephson barrier and the activation energy is due to an effective temperature T/sub e/. For small junctions T/sub e/ coincides, as expected, with the thermodynamic temperature, regardless of the applied magnetic field. For long junctions instead it is found that the escape temperature depends markedly on the magnetic field and on the junction geometry (inline or overlap), suggesting a close relationship with the magnetic field distribution inside the junction.