World No Tobacco Day 2013

cig 2Today is World No Tobacco Day – a World Health Organisation initiative that aims to raise awareness of the devastating health effects of tobacco use. 

The focus for 2013 is on advertising and promotion of tobacco products.  Globally, tobacco use is on the rise and, as tobacco contains nicotine – a highly additive drug – we need to focus on reducing the appeal of tobacco, so that less people begin using it in the first place. 

Tobacco is a uniquely deadly product that kills almost 50% of people who use it.  Nearly 6 million people die from tobacco-related illnesses every year, of which 600,000 die from exposure to second-hand smoke. 

In the European Parliament, we’re currently negotiating a new Tobacco Products Directive, and I want to focus on how we can reduce the appeal of cigarettes and other tobacco products. 

Tobacco use in Europe is actually falling, but this means that tobacco companies need to replace those who quit or die, in order to continue making a profit.  And they are increasingly targeting young people, in particular young women. 

Two thirds of smokers start before the age of 18 and, while the rate of male smokers is declining in Europe, the number of female smokers is on the rise

Tobacco advertising has already been banned, so the packet is the last place that companies have to promote their brand.  We can see how they use this to reach their target audience, using fancy packaging in pretty colours and introducing flavours to mask the less appetising taste of tobacco.  Labour MEPs want to stop companies from being able to do this, to make it harder for them to recruit a new generation of smokers. 

I’d like to see standardised packaging made mandatory and I was disappointed that the Coalition Government dropped this from the Queen’s speech.  This has already been introduced in Australia, where large, pictorial health warnings now cover most of the pack, with the brand name in a standard font.  Research suggests that measures such as this do make smoking less attractive to young people. 

I’d also like to see measures aimed at making smoking less accessible, for example by banning point-of-sale displays.  Such restrictions have already been introduced in a number of European countries, and I would like to see this extended to the whole EU.  Research in New Zealand found that children exposed to cigarette displays were almost three times more likely to smoke. 

Cutting smoking rates in Europe will have huge public health benefits and I hope other EU leaders will follow the lead of Ireland – who announced plans to introduce standardised packaging this week – and support strong tobacco control measures.  We owe it to our young people to protect them from the unscrupulous tactics of an industry that puts profit before people’s lives.

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