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Member of the European Commission, responsible for Health and Consumer Policy

Successful tobacco control is a joint effort

Event at the European Parliament "Social and Health Effects of the new Tobacco Product Directive"

European Parliament, Brussels, 12 July 2011

Honourable Members of Parliament,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very pleased to be here with you today to speak about Tobacco control policy.

Let me first thank Mr Tabajdi for bringing us together today on this very important issue.

Tobacco products are widespread.

And still, tobacco products are not just like any other products. Let me tell you why.

Tobacco smoking kills 650,000 Europeans every year. This is more than the population of Malta or Luxembourg.

13 million Europeans suffer from diseases which are related to tobacco smoking. This is more than the population of Hungary, or the Netherlands.

9 in every 10 lung cancers are caused by smoking.

Worse, tobacco products also kill people who do not smoke.

Over 16,000 non-smokers die every year in the European Union because of exposure to tobacco smoke.

As such, tobacco smoking is the largest single cause of premature death and disease in the European Union.

Tobacco related diseases also cost a lot of money to society.

At least 6% of national healthcare spending is eaten up by tobacco-related diseases - that are entirely preventable. This, at a time when health budgets are being squeezed.

Just think how many deaths, how much suffering, how much money in treatment we could save.

The health Community has known - for more than 50 years - that smoking is a leading cause of cancer.

The health Community also knows that smoking is a cause of heart attacks, blindness, clogged arteries and many other cases of miserable suffering leading to early death.

What about smokers?

Do they know what tobacco does to their health?

Young people start smoking because they are led to think it’s cool.

They go on smoking because tobacco is addictive.

And later in life, they die out of smoking because tobacco is highly toxic.

I am extremely concerned about the many children and young people who smoke.

In some Member States, amongst 15 year old kids, 1 in 3 smokes.

And there are vanilla flavoured or strawberry flavoured, sweet, pink, small cigarettes that can make it much easier to start smoking earlier in life.

Tobacco packages are also increasingly used as marketing tools. Slim, colourful, cute packages are available out there in the market.

Tobacco is looking, and tasting, less and less like tobacco and more and more like a harmless product.

Shall we just stand and do nothing while our children smoke away their lives and their future?

I believe we need to act now to make tobacco less attractive, in particular to young people, and to ensure that people know what tobacco does to their health.

This is why I am considering the possibilities to improve the rules on health warnings and packaging so that people get accurate, effective information about the product they choose to consume.

So that when people look at a package of cigarettes, they understand what this product can do to their health, and are not misled by an appealing packaging.

I am also considering how to regulate additives in tobacco products such as the flavours I mentioned earlier on, which have been shown to be particularly attractive to young people.

I am also reflecting on possible ways of regulating access to tobacco in a more stringent manner to limit the exposure of minors to tobacco products.

And finally, I am considering how to cover a number of products that have mushroomed in the market such as eCigarettes.

It is in this spirit that I plan to propose a revision of the Tobacco Products Directive next year.

I am convinced that such measures can help make tobacco products less attractive – and will help deter young people from taking up smoking in the first place.

In the meantime, the Commission is working with the Member States to update the health warnings – both in text and in pictures - that appear in tobacco packages.

Evidence suggests that the impact of such health warnings decreases over time as the novelty effect wears off.

In addition, Member States have committed themselves – through a Council Recommendation - to working towards smoke free environments by 2012.

I strongly encourage Member States to live up to their commitment and adopt and enforce legislation that effectively protects their citizens against tobacco smoke.

I am pleased to see that the last few years have seen a clear trend towards smoke-free environments in several Member States.

There is still a long way to go, however, to achieve a Smoke free Europe. And this is why I will continue encouraging Member States to pursue their efforts.

When talking about tobacco, we also have to bear in mind that we have international commitments, in particular the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control; which is binding for all its parties including the EU Member States.

Major steps forward were taken during the last plenary session of this Convention last November, in Uruguay, including guidelines on limiting or banning additives.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Tobacco control is about saving lives; about preventing diseases, about discouraging an addiction.

It is not about making lives more difficult for farmers or the industry or the people who work in the tobacco business.

I want to hear about costs. However, the costs that are uppermost in my mind are the cost of illness; and in particular the cost of life lost.

Farmers want to protect their crops.

Tobacco industry wants to protect their business.

And health policy makers must protect people's health. We must protect those 650,000 lives that are wasted every year.

Let me finish by saying that successful tobacco control is a joint effort.

The European Parliament's contribution to the adoption of the original Tobacco products Directive and its revision 10 years ago was of key importance.

This time again, the European Commission looks forward to working hand in hand with the Parliament in shaping a key piece of legislation for the sake of our citizens.

Thank you.

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