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More must be done to stub out the scourge of tobacco use in Europe

MEPs have a responsibility to reduce the EU’s 700,000 annual smoking-related deaths, argues Brian Hayes.

Cancer is one of the biggest causes of death in Europe and lung cancer accounts for a significant number of those deaths. I believe that one of our responsibilities as legislators is to tackle the largest cause of lung cancer – smoking.

Smoking is the single biggest preventable cause of cancer in Europe, causing 90 per cent of lung cancers. Every year, more Europeans die from smoking than from the combined total of car accidents, fires, drug overdoses, murders and suicides. Around 700,000 Europeans will die from smoking this year.

The passing of the EU tobacco products directive does not mark the end of the scourge of tobacco use in Europe. Quite frankly I believe we need to do more. Some member states are exceeding their obligations which I very much welcome. Ireland, my own country, despite strong objections from the tobacco industry was the first member state to pass legislation to introduce plain packaging.

Now other countries including the United Kingdom and France are following suit. Yet, the implementation of such measures could potentially be delayed as the tobacco industry intends on taking these governments to court.

Tobacco is a unique case. It is the only legal product that will kill half of its long-term users. That is why I fully support the introduction of standardised packaging in Ireland and would like to see a situation where every EU member state adopts the same position.

Australia was the first country to introduce such legislation and the evidence is clear. Dozens of studies have concluded that standardised packaging reduces the attractiveness of cigarettes, lowers the ability of packaging to mislead consumers into believing that some products are less harmful and increases the noticeability and impact of health warning messages.

Official statistics show that Australia’s smoking rate has been significantly reduced and is continuing to fall. It is now at its lowest levels since records began.

Another area where I believe we could work to discourage smoking is on the price of tobacco. In Ireland, we have increased taxation on cigarettes to approximately €10 per pack of 20 – one of the highest rates in Europe.

Repeated studies show that price is a deterring factor for smokers. In Ireland, the largest single annual decline in smoking rates was nine per cent between June 2009 and June 2010. The origins of this can be traced back to the preceding year’s budget in which a €0.50 excise duty was added to a pack of cigarettes.

Many people will disagree with my opinion and I respect that. However, we must face reality – cancer is one the biggest causes of death across the 28 member states with lung cancer accounting for a significant amount of those deaths. If we are serious about reducing our cancer rates we need to tackle the causes.

Arguments will be made that we are overregulating the tobacco industry but if we sit back and do nothing the 700,000 Europeans that die in 2015 from smoking could be a significantly higher figure in 10 years’ time.

About the author
Brian Hayes (EPP, IE) is a member of MEPs against cancer

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