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Brussels, 29 March 2006

Questions and Answers on the “HELP – For a life without tobacco” Carbon Monoxide Campaign

What is carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide, or CO, is a polluting gas linked to combustion. CO is extremely toxic but colourless and odourless and is nicknamed the ‘invisible killer’. CO is produced by vehicle exhaust systems, water heating appliances, coal-burning stoves as well as by smoking cigarettes, cigars and pipes. 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.

What are the effects of CO on the body? 

CO passes from the lungs to the blood and binds itself to the haemoglobin of the red blood cells. CO attaches itself to these cells at a strength 200 times greater than oxygen. The CO hence paralyses the red blood cells and prevents them from binding the oxygen essential for the life of the organs, heart, brain and muscles in particular. Cardiac efficiency levels fall, the risks of blood clots forming increase and there are real risks to the development of the foetus in pregnant women.

Where and when can I have my breath tested?

From March to November 2006 the HELP campaign will be at more than 200 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.

Why test your CO level?

Measuring your CO level lets you:

  • find out about the effects of smoking on the body;
  • find out your profile as a smoker;
  • become aware of the dangers of passive smoking;
  • plan and start a personal quitting plan, with the help of individually tailored advice;
  • see a rapid drop in your CO level once you stop smoking.

What are the health consequences of smoking?

Tobacco-related diseases are the second biggest avoidable cause of death world-wide (around 5 million deaths every year), and the single largest cause of death in Europe. Tobacco accounts for over 650,000 deaths every year in the twenty five Member States of the European Union, i.e. one in every seven deaths[2]. One in every two smokers is killed by their habit but smoking is also life-threatening for non-smokers. A study published in April 2004 in the British Medical Journal[3] points to the devastating effects of passive smoking: according to the authors, adults who are in daily contact with a smoker increase their mortality rate by 15%, even if they have never smoked themselves.

What is the HELP campaign?

“HELP” is the second major EU-wide anti-smoking campaign run by the Commission. It is one of the largest international public health campaigns ever designed and run. It builds on the experience of the first campaign, “Feel Free to Say No”, which ran between 2002 and 2004 and achieved over a billion contacts with young people throughout the EU (see IP/04/1284). The “HELP” campaign was launched in 2005 with a road-show, press and public relations campaigns, an advertising campaign and a web site.

Who are the partners of the HELP campaign?

The campaign is carried out in partnership with national and local anti-smoking organisations across Europe. This line of action is being developed in coordination with the European Network for Smoking Prevention (ENSP), Europe’s largest anti-smoking network, representing no fewer than 600 organisations.

What are the main priorities of the HELP campaign?

The three main priorities are:

- Smoking prevention

- Giving up smoking

- The dangers of passive smoking.

How much does the campaign cost?

A maximum of €72 million for the period 2005-2008 (4 years) is dedicated to the campaign.

Which groups is the campaign targeting?

While adults today seem to be relatively well informed about the harmful effects of smoking, young people, especially girls, remain the main group at risk. Eight out of ten smokers start in their teenage years.

The “HELP” campaign therefore targets young people in particular (aged between 15 and 18) and young adults (aged between 18 and 30).

What are the results so far?

For its first year, the three HELP TV adverts, broadcast on 80 TV channels across the EU, achieved more than 1.1 billion contacts within the target group of young people (estimated at 115 million). In parallel, more than 137 million hits were detected for the HELP website ( and more than 2,100 press articles were published in the European press. Ex-post testing of the campaign, carried out in October 2005 with a survey of more than 25,000 respondents Europe-wide, revealed that the campaign had a high impact.

29% of the Europeans interviewed claimed that they had seen the campaign and 48% of young people aged under 25 remembered seeing one of the adverts of the campaign. 76% of the Europeans who saw the campaign liked it (83% of young people). 88% of the Europeans who saw the campaign understood the messages behind. Two thirds of young non-smokers under 25 declared that the adverts could prevent people from starting smoking. 61% of European smokers thought that the advert made them think about their smoking.

What will the next HELP TV advert look like?

A fourth HELP TV advert will be produced in 2006. Previous HELP adverts featured the paper whistle as a symbol of the cigarette, ridiculing smoking as absurd behaviour. Following positive feedback, the paper whistle will remain as the main creative line, while a stronger emphasis will be put on the dangers of passive smoking and other health risks. Young girls should also be a specific target.

What is the “Youth Manifesto”?
The “Youth Manifesto” project is being developed in close co-operation with the “Youth Forum Jeunesse” (representing European youth organisations and national youth councils across Europe). National consultations on young people and smoking were organised across the EU from autumn 2005 to spring 2006. The objective is to draft a “European Youth Manifesto” on tobacco, based on this consultation. Twenty five national youth conferences were organised, to prepare 25 national youth manifestos, which will be summarised in a single document at EU level.

Where can I find more information?


[1] PPM: Parts per million.

[2] ASPECT report (Analysis of the Science and Policy for European Control of Tobacco), European Commission, 2004.

[3] Sarah E. Hill “Mortality among never smokers living with smokers” British Medical Journal 05.04.2004

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