Health Commissioner hails ex-smokers


Vytenis Andriukaitis [Henriette Jacobsen]

Tobacco is responsible for nearly 700,000 avoidable deaths in the EU every year, but some anti-tobacco campaigns help EU citizens quit smoking, says Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis. 

Since its launch in 2011, the Commission-funded campaign, Ex-Smokers are unstoppable, as well as iCoach, a free online information tool, have assisted smokers in quitting tobacco. 36% of iCoach users claim to have quit their habit within three months, which translates into a savings of more than €262 million.

Speaking in Brussels on Day of the Ex-Smoker (30 October), Andriukaitis stressed that he would like to invite member states and health NGOs to work on a strategic action plan to create more information campaigns as part of a wider disease prevention approach.

“As a heart surgeon, I have seen first-hand the terrible effects of tobacco use. I also lost two of my brothers to tobacco-related diseases. I will never forget the pain they went through,” the Health Commissioner said..

>>Read: Respiratory diseases among the EU’s biggest killers

“A rigorous tobacco control policy, supported by awareness-raising initiatives such as ‘Ex-smokers are Unstoppable’, is vital for improving public health in the EU. Giving up smoking is an achievement to be proud of, an achievement which can change your life. Today we celebrate thousands of ex-smokers who shine bright across Europe. I congratulate them all – they are an inspiration to those who are still struggling to quit,” he continued.

Catherine Hartmann, Secretary General of the European Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Coalition, emphasised that it is essential to quit smoking to avoid the onset of COPD, a severe lung condition that is manageable but not curable.

>>Read: UK study recommends e-cigarettes as healthier alternative to smoking

“Stopping smoking is also the number one treatment for those suffering from COPD; it should be encouraged and supported, irrespective of the age or number of years of smoking. We welcome this initiative and trust it will contribute to halt the development of COPD which, otherwise, is set to become the 3rd leading cause of death worldwide by 2030, according to WHO,” Hartmann said in a statement.

Andriukaitis also mentioned that the implementation of the EU’s updated tobacco directive from 2014 is on track in most member states, but that the Commission is currently discussing with four countries “how their implementation could be more effective.”

The new tobacco directive aims to make smoking less attractive to young people by, for example, banning flavourings in cigarettes and roll-your-own tobacco, and having picture warnings on 65% of a cigarette package. Member states have until 2016 to implement the directive. 

Commenting on the campaign, professor Carlos Jimenez-Ruiz, chair of the Tobacco Control Committee of the European Respiratory Society, said "combined with effective smoking-cessation programmes, campaigns like 'Ex-smokers are unstoppable are essential for reducing smoking-related deaths in Europe".

The EU's tobacco directive was updated in 2014, with the aim of preventing young people from taking up smoking.

The legislation will make it mandatory for all cigarette packs to carry picture warnings covering 65% of their surface. E-cigarettes will be regulated, either as medicinal products, if they claim to help smokers to quit, or as tobacco products.

Moreover, the legislation will ban flavourings in cigarettes and roll-your-own tobacco that would make the product more attractive by giving it a 'characterising flavour'. Menthol would be banned from 2020. Flavours would be allowed for water pipe tobacco.

Member states would have to put the provisions on tobacco products into effect within two years of the updated directive's date of entry into force.

  • 30 October: Day of the Ex-Smoker

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