Commission envisages tobacco-free Europe by 2040 in leaked cancer plan

In a draft of the EU's cancer plan seen by EURACTIV, the Commission will also propose to stop stimulating consumption of alcohol via the EU promotion programme for agricultural products. [SHUTTERSTOCK/PHOTOGRAPEE.EU]

The much-awaited ‘Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan’ is being shaped with a strong push on prevention, targeting in particular alcohol and tobacco products, including novel tobacco products like e-cigarettes, EURACTIV has learnt.

An EU-wide plan to combat cancer has remained one of the priorities of Ursula von der Leyen’s Commission when it comes to public health, although the COVID crisis has understandably diverted attention over the past few months.

The actions set out in the plan, which was expected to be unveiled already in December, will aim to support, coordinate and even supplement member states’ efforts at every stage of cancer care, including prevention and quality of life of survivors.

A draft of the ‘Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan’ obtained by EURACTIV has confirmed that it will be based on four key pillars – prevention, early diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up care – with seven flagship initiatives and a number of supporting actions.

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The draft says the plan is to be considered as “the EU’s political commitment to leave no stone unturned in the fight against cancer.”

In this regard, the most ambitious commitments are listed in the prevention part, particularly with the goal of creating a ‘tobacco-free generation’ by 2040.

Since 90% of lung cancers may be avoided without tobacco use, the Commission is aiming to have fewer than 5% of EU citizens using tobacco in twenty years.

This will be achieved, according to the EU executive, through rigorous enforcement of the EU tobacco control framework and its adaptation to new developments and market trends, including stricter rules on novel products such as e-cigarettes and herbal products for smoking, starting in 2021.

According to the draft, the Commission is considering updating by 2023 the Council recommendation on smoke-free environments like outdoor public places, recommending “to extend its coverage to emerging products, such as e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products.”

Furthermore, the Commission considers tobacco taxation as one of the most effective instruments to fight tobacco consumption, particularly in deterring young people from taking up smoking.

In order to reduce the attractiveness of tobacco and related products, the Commission is expected to announce a review of several EU laws such as the tobacco products directive, the tobacco taxation directive and the legal framework on cross-border purchases of tobacco by private individuals.

EXCLUSIVE: EU countries to propose excise tax for e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products

EU member states will ask the European Commission this week to place novel tobacco products, electronic cigarettes and heated tobacco products under the EU Tobacco Excise Directive, meaning they would be taxed just like traditional tobacco products, according to draft Council conclusions seen by EURACTIV.com.

The other target of the Commission’s initiative for beating cancer  is alcohol, which accounts for more than 15% of cancer-attributable deaths in men and 30% in women

Replicating the efforts in reducing tobacco use, the Commission is set to review EU legislation relating to the taxation of alcohol and to cross border purchases of alcohol by private individuals.

The EU’s action will also involve the reduction of online marketing and advertising of alcoholic beverages, in order to reduce the exposure of young people to these products.

“The Commission will also propose to stop stimulating consumption of alcohol via the EU promotion programme for agricultural products,” the draft of the plan says.

A more controversial phase-out from the EU promotion policy for agricultural products is expected for foods linked with cancer risks, such as red and processed meat, which constitute a big chunk of the promotion programmes.

A proposal of mandatory labelling of the list of ingredients and calorie content, as well as health warnings on the label of alcoholic beverages, is expected to be unveiled by the end of 2023.

The mandatory front-of-pack nutritional labelling announced in the EU’s food policy, the Farm to Fork strategy (F2F), will have a key role in addressing the joint effects of unhealthy diets, obesity, and physical inactivity.

Lastly, the Commission will be committed to addressing environmental issues by aligning the EU’s air quality standards with the World Health Organisation’s guidelines and reduce exposure to carcinogenic substances and radiation through continuous updates of the carcinogens and mutagens directive.

COVID-19 will not spell the end of EU’s cancer fight

The fight against cancer remains a cross-cutting priority for the EU although COVID-crisis has understandably diverted attention over the past few months.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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