The European Commission is set to widen the scope of cigarette-trading rules to cover potentially harmful electronic cigarettes, flavourings and even marketing strategies, as part of a wider campaign launched yesterday (16 June) to urge Europeans to quit.
The campaign is centred around a new online tool, called 'iCoach', a free-access digital platform which is to be first targeted at smoking EU officials in an effort to get them to lead by example on the issue.
Available in all EU languages, the iCoach contains a number of different stages designed to offer smokers – including those who have no intention of giving up and those in danger of relapse – practical advice on how to overcome nicotine addiction.
It forms the central part of the new campaign called 'Ex-Smokers are Unstoppable' launched by Health Commissioner John Dalli yesterday, which is principally targeting smokers aged between 25 and 34.
At the launch, Dalli told EURACTIV that he was considering further legislative proposals to be announced next year as the campaign progresses.
Electronic cigarettes: harmful?
He said existing legislation could be broadened to cover potentially harmful non-tobacco products – such as electronic cigarettes – aroma-sweetening flavourings added to tobacco, advertising, packaging, and the way tobacco is marketed in shops.
The three-year campaign has been budgeted at €16 million for the first year and is designed to accentuate the positive benefits of quitting smoking, highlighting how doing so can bring financial, social and health benefits.
Designed to use ex-smokers as role models to advertise the benefits of quitting, the campaign will particularly target women and lower socio-economic groups.
Officials should lead by example
Launching the campaign, Dalli, a former smoker himself, said: "Young people start smoking because they are led to think it is cool; they continue smoking because tobacco is addictive; and over 650,000 people die out of smoking in the EU every year because tobacco is highly toxic. Public authorities have a role to play in helping citizens break this cycle of addiction and avoidable death and illness."
In addition to the iCoach, the campaign will also use mixed media in order to boost its profile. A series of newspaper advertisements is running today across a variety of member states.
Both Dalli and the director-general of the Commission's health department, Paola Testori Coggi, said that they expected those working in the institutions to sign up, in order to lead by example. Testori Coggi said: "I will ask all my officials who smoke to register [on the iCoach], and I hope this will stand as an example that the other [DGs] will follow."
"As an ex-smoker what I would say is it is much better since I stopped. I stopped when I was under pressure, I had just become a minister in Malta and after a year of that I knew I had to stop smoking really if I wanted to deliver properly, and the advice I would give is stick to it for the first two weeks then it will become easy after that," said Health Commissioner John Dalli, at the launch of the campaign, where he confirmed that he would "proselytise the issue amongst fellow commissioners".
"We are revising our tobacco legislation to make sure that we expand their scope – not just to tobacco – because there are other products which are more harmful, and also on packaging, advertising and access to cigarettes in shops, which can all help people to give up," Dalli told EURACTIV.
He explained: "Electronic cigarettes are an example. They are outside the scope of existing legislation, but if you go up on certain aeroplanes they are marketed all the time. This is the sort of expansion of legislation I am are talking about, in addition to looking into how we may legislate against certain flavourings which are being used to appeal to female smokers, plus packaging and advertising, and the way that they are positioned in stores."
"The institutions have already distributed the details of the campaign on the web site of all my fellow directors-general and we really hope that they will actively distribute them. I will ask that all my officials who smoke register [on the iCoach], and I hope this stand as an example that the others will follow," said Paola Testori Coggi, director-general of the Commission's health department (DG SANCO).
The first tobacco control legislation in the EU was introduced in the 1980s.
Since then, EU legislation and policy has been further developed in the areas of product regulation, advertising and protecting people from second-hand smoke, as well as prevention of tobacco use, awareness raising and support for cessation.
This EU approach includes, since 2002, EU-wide awareness-raising campaigns.
The first EU-wide awareness-raising campaign financed by the European Commission, 'Feel free to say 'no',' ran from 2002 to 2004.
The 'HELP' campaign, which ran from 2005 to 2010, focused on smoking prevention, smoking cessation and passive smoking and targeted, in particular, young Europeans between 15 and 25 years of age.
- Next year: Dalli says he will announce measures designed to regulate tobacco industry more tightly.
- Next three years: 'Ex-smokers are Unstoppable' campaign to run.