The European Parliament decided to postpone a crucial vote on the Tobacco Directive scheduled for this week.
Anti-tobacco activists say that it was tobacco industry who lobbied for the rescheduling of the vote. The new directive envisages, amongst other things, a ban on slim and flavoured cigarettes and active anti-smoking commercials, especially aimed at women and young people.
How important is the new directive? What is the situation in Europe with smoking? Euronews spoke about it with Zsuzsanna Jakab, Director of the World Health Organization’s Regional Office for Europe.
Europe has a bad track record on tobacco. To be quite honest we can do much more and have to do much more on tobacco. If you look at the mortality, the number of deaths in the European region, 16% of the mortality comes from smoking, from tobacco. The prevalence among the population of smoking is 31-32% which is extremely high. That has a little bit of improvement among the male population but no improvement on the contrary among the women. And what is extremely worrisome for us that the adolescent population smokes a lot and they start smoking before the age of 18 – at least 70% of them start smoking before the age of 18 and 95% before the age of 21. So this is extremely worrisome and this is one of big public health threats that we have in the European region. And we have to address this very seriously and one of the ways of addressing this is to get the tobacco directive going and improved and ratified. Because that can seriously address all the measures that you need for a comprehensive tobacco control policy. And also the EU citizens according to the Eurobarometer survey are very much for a strong tobacco control policy. And we were very happy with a report of the ENVI committee of the European parliament last July which has put forward a very strong effort to control tobacco.
We assume that WHO supports the Tobacco directive?
WHO has supported the Tobacco directive from the very beginning and we continue to support it. We are very much looking forward to its adoption and ratification by the European Parliament as originally planned. The reason is why WHO is fully behind it is because one of the legally binding instruments of WHO is the framework convention on tobacco which was adopted a number if years ago and the European community was the first to sign it in 2005. And now this directive the Commission has put forward is to align the legislation of the European Union member states with the FCTC – the Framework convention of tobacco control and therefore we have supported it very strongly from the beginning and we continue to do so.
And what about e-cigarettes? Should they be allowed or prohibited?
With regards to e-cigarettes we have to do more research. We do not have sufficient research to prove either the cons and pros. We have to work more on this but of course we have to be careful and not to promote e-cigarettes too much until we have evidence in our hands about the effectiveness or future use of these cigarettes. So more research is needed basically.
Are you supporting the idea of plain packaging in Europe that was already introduced in Australia?
WHO is supporting plain packaging. Of course anything that is against the advertisement of tobacco is supported strongly by WHO. So that is for us a very positive development and we are fully behind this initiative whenever it comes up.