Fighting the tobacco epidemic to protect public health by reducing preventable cancer cases
Tobacco consumption is both the single largest avoidable health risk and the most significant cause of premature death in the EU, responsible for nearly 700,000 deaths every year. Around 50% of smokers die prematurely (on average 14 years earlier). Despite considerable progress made in recent years, the number of smokers in the EU is still high - 26% of the overall population and 29% of young Europeans aged 15-24 smoke.
The EU tobacco legislation consists of the following acts:
- Tobacco Products Directive (2014/40/EU)
- Tobacco Advertising Directive (2003/33/EC)
- Tobacco Tax Directive ( 2010/12/EU)
A strong European commitment has been established through Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, and its goal of achieving a tobacco-free Europe via:
- Reducing tobacco use by 30% by 2025 to reach the WHO target;
- Achieving a 5% tobacco prevalence level by 2040.
As envisaged in the Beating Cancer Plan’s Implementation Roadmap, the European Commission (EC) is currently assessing the EU tobacco legislation and conducted a public consultation (closed on 16 May 2023) to collect views on the performance of the current EU legislative framework for tobacco control, notably the Tobacco Product Directive (TPD) and Tobacco Advertising Directive (TAD), with reference to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
The main aim of the public consultation was to collect comments on whether the current EU legislation is effectively protecting public health and how the legislation could be improved, including the following issues:
- Emerging novel tobacco products;
- Regulatory challenges posed by heated tobacco products (HTPs), e-cigarettes and new herbal products;
- The use of emerging products among youth and the health risks associated with these products;
- Cross-border distance sales and the legal age limit verification for the purchasing of tobacco products;
- The rules on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship (TAPS).
The EC is expected to adopt a proposal for the revision of the TPD early 2024, although it is not clear yet whether this proposal also will include a revision of the TAD or other legislative provisions on tobacco and related products.
ESMO responded to the aforementioned public consultation advising that the following issues be addressed in the upcoming revision:
- Introduction of mandatory plain-packaging with 80% front and back pictorial health warnings for all tobacco products;
- Harmonise the definitions of tobacco and related products across EU legislation;
- Strengthen rules on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship (TAPS), with a particular focus on e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products (HTPs);
- Introduction of a definition for HTPs and subject them to the full effect of the TPD and revise the definition and regulatory pathway of ‘novel’ tobacco products;
- Ban cross-border distance (online) sales of tobacco products and e-cigarettes;
- Include a reference to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) Article 5.3 (protecting public health policy from tobacco industry interference) in the TPD;
- Eliminate TPD Article 7(12) which exempts tobacco products other than cigarettes and roll-your-own tobacco from the ban on characterising flavours;
- Maintain the ban on tobacco products for oral use (‘snus’) on the EU market and introduce a distinct definition for ‘snus’ and ‘chewing tobacco’.
Currently the European Council is working on its non-binding recommendations, expected in late 2023, reinforcing the rules for people who are exposed to passive smoking - smoke-free environments - which is expected to cover novel tobacco products.
ESMO is committed to working with the EU and national governments to secure the implementation of comprehensive tobacco control measures to tackle the bane of cancer.