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Commissioner for Health
Strengthening EU legislation on tobacco products
High-level conference on pictorial health warnings and standardised packaging for tobacco products
Brussels, 29 February 2012
Honourable Members of Parliament,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me first thank the Smoke Free Partnership and the Belgian Foundation against Cancer for bringing us together today to discuss tobacco packaging.
I would also like to thank Mr Florenz, Ms Willmot, Mr Schlyter and Ms Parvanova for hosting this event and for their firm commitment to the tobacco control cause.
I very much welcome this opportunity to speak about the need to revise EU legislation on tobacco products.
Tobacco remains the largest single preventable cause of premature death and disease in the European Union.
13 million Europeans suffer from diseases related to tobacco smoking. This is more than the entire population of Hungary or the Netherlands, or Portugal.
Just think how many deaths, how much suffering, and also how much money in treatment we could save, if people did not smoke.
A great majority of smokers start smoking when they are teenagers. 80% of young smokers started smoking before they turned 18. In some Member States, 1 in 3 15 year old teenagers smoke.
My main concern – which I believe you share – is the fact that so many children and young people smoke.
We know that 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.
This is why our action needs to focus on young people.
We have to ask ourselves some questions:
When young people look at a pack of cigarettes, do they really understand what the product is about?
Do they get the right message about what this product can do to their health? and do they get a consistent message about the dangers of smoking?
And this is why our goal should be to ensure that tobacco products – cigarettes in particular - are produced and presented across the European Union in such a way, that they do not encourage or facilitate the uptake of smoking by young people.
The key issue is indeed to reduce attractiveness of cigarettes.
Cigarette packages are increasingly used as marketing tools. Slim, colourful, attractive packages are available on the market.
Such appealing packaging can mislead people into believing that these products are harmless products like any other, when clearly they are not.
If you look at some of these photos of cigarette packs you see what I mean.
The same is true for additives put into cigarettes.
There are now vanilla flavoured and strawberry flavoured cigarettes that can make it easier to smoke earlier in life.
There are also pink coloured and slim shaped cigarettes that could make smoking appear much more alluring and seductive, in particular to young girls.
But tobacco is tobacco – even if it is presented in an appealing way.
So we need to take further action to make tobacco less appealing – in particular to young people – and to ensure that people know exactly what they can expect from tobacco in terms of bad health.
It is in this spirit that I am considering different possibilities to improve the rules on health warnings and packaging so that people get accurate, effective information about tobacco products.
Tobacco packages should look dissuasive, not appealing. When people look at a package of cigarettes, they need to get the message that this product can harm their health.
Packages should give people a consistent message about the product they contain.
Tobacco should not look like some harmless product; in particular when displayed next to normal consumer goods, often near sweets for example.
I am also considering how to regulate additives in tobacco products such as the flavours I mentioned earlier, which can act as a strong magnet to young people.
Besides attractiveness, there are two other key issues that I consider essential for the revision of the Tobacco Products Directive.
First, I am reflecting on possible ways of regulating access to tobacco in a more stringent manner to limit the exposure of minors to tobacco products.
Second, I am considering how to address new types of nicotine products on the market, such as electronic cigarettes.
This is the general framework in which I plan to propose a revision of the Tobacco Products Directive by the end of this year.
As you know, consultations are on-going and no decisions have been taken on the exact means to achieve the goals I have outlined.
The forthcoming revision of the Directive should also be seen in a wider international context.
Over the past ten years or so, the EU has consistently shown strong leadership in global tobacco control.
We should be proud of our achievements in the international arena, and seek to build on them.
The revision of the Tobacco Products Directive needs to demonstrate the EU's continuing momentum to keep up this level of leadership and to take it further.
I know that many Member States are keen to live up to their commitments under the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
However, Member States cannot make progress in areas such as labelling and ingredients without further harmonisation at EU level.
Finally, before I conclude, let me emphasise that the European Parliament and NGOs played a key role in the adoption of the original Tobacco products Directive and its first revision.
This time again, the European Commission looks forward to working hand in hand with the Parliament and with stakeholders in revising the Directive.
I am particularly pleased to see interested Members of Parliament here today – and I look forward to your firm support towards our shared aim of a stronger and more effective Tobacco Products Directive.