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Brussels, 29 March 2006

“HELP – For a life without tobacco”: Commissioners breath tested for carbon monoxide

European Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner Markos Kyprianou and several other Commissioners today had their breath tested for carbon monoxide (CO), a toxic gas produced by tobacco smoke, to launch the next phase of the EU anti-smoking campaign “HELP – For a life without tobacco”. The Commissioners had their breath tested for carbon monoxide in one of the 25 “HELP” tents decorated in the colours of each Member State set up in front of the Commission’s Berlaymont headquarters. They each received a certificate with the results of the tests, along with some advice on the risks of passive smoking. Carbon monoxide is a highly toxic polluting gas linked to combustion, which is one of the most dangerous components of cigarette smoke. High levels of carbon monoxide are associated with reduced cardiac efficiency, an increased risk of blood clots and disruption of the development of the foetus in pregnant women. From March to November 2006, the HELP campaign will be on tour across Europe at more than 100 national events. “HELP tents” will be on display during these events, welcoming European citizens to get their breath tested and advising them on tobacco prevention, passive smoking and how to quit. More than 50.000 carbon monoxide tests will be carried out.

Commissioner Kyprianou said: “I quit smoking over fifteen years ago, and luckily the carbon monoxide levels in my breath are back down to normal levels. But many young people are starting the habit every day, and this campaign is designed to raise awareness of the health risks linked to the carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke. Health-care costs caused by smoking top €100 billion per year in Europe and smoking has become the main preventable killer of our time. The HELP campaign has been very successful so far in getting the message across that smokers can get help to quit, and warning young people of the risks of passive smoking and addiction. With this carbon monoxide campaign, the “HELP” campaign is stepping up a gear to promote a life without tobacco.”

Why test for carbon monoxide levels?

Carbon monoxide is extremely toxic but colourless and odourless, and of the hundreds of toxic constituents of tobacco smoke, carbon monoxide is particularly harmful to both smokers and non-smokers. In smokers, the level of CO in the body is higher than the CO pollution warning level in the cities of the EU (set at 8.5 PPM[1]). In non-smokers, the level of CO exhaled increases with the duration of exposure to passive smoking. The campaign aims to raise awareness of the dangers of carbon monoxide, and to encourage both smokers and non-smokers to find out about the health effects of smoking on the body, the dangers of passive smoking and the positive health effects of quitting.

From March to November 2006 the HELP campaign will be at more than 100 national events throughout Europe. A special series of 25 HELP stands (one per Member State) has been designed. In each HELP tent, a team of professionals from the ‘European Network for Smoking Prevention’ (ENSP) will welcome everyone - smokers or non-smokers - wishing to measure their CO level.

The CO test will be anonymous and the results will be recorded by the team staffing each tent. The results will then be encoded for the purpose of creating a computer data base. This data will be used as the basis for a European study to be led by Professor Bertrand Dautzenberg, an internationally-renowned lung specialist and tobaccologist (Groupe Hospitalier Pitié Salpêtrière, Paris) and coordinator of the European network of smoking-free hospitals.

Next steps for the HELP campaign

Following a successful third round of TV adverts on over 80 television channels in January 2006 focusing on ‘new year resolutions’, a fourth will be on TV screens across Europe in September. Furthermore, in June, a special TV campaign will be launched in partnership with MTV.

The web visibility of the “HELP campaign” is to be stepped up, namely through adding banners on websites popular with young people. Furthermore, on the HELP website, a series of interactive games, e-cards, and TV spots will accompany the more serious information on the dangers of smoking.

Other activities will include a “European Youth Manifesto”, to be finalised in May, based on consultations with young people across the 25 Member States; the presentation of the HELP campaign to the European Parliament; and a road-show with more than 100 national events across the 25 Member States.

Further information

Link to MEMO/06/147,

[1] PPM: Parts per million.

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