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According to WHO tobacco is the most preventable premature cause of death and the only product for which there is a “Convention for Tobacco Control” signed by 168 countries, which provides for member countries to take price and tax measures to reduce the demand for tobacco.

In the EU some 700 000 people die every year prematurely from smoking.

Smoking causes long and painful suffering through cancer, lung and heart diseases, the high monetary costs of which no society can afford to pay.

Since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009 the EU may take measures for protecting public health from tobacco and alcohol use, short of harmonising national legislation (article 168). It has already done so, in particular through the tax and tobacco product directives in 2011 and 2014, the first aiming at minimum tax rates and improving the functioning of the internal market, the second banning advertising on billboards and TV, small cigarette packages and special cigarette flavours, with menthol from 2020.

As the average starting age for smoking is around 18 years EU action targets young people and protects them from becoming addicted.

Smoking prevalence in the EU has visibly declined since the beginning of the century, from 40 to 28 per cent. But it is still far too high.

Thanks to rising awareness of the health risks public support for prohibiting smoking in work places, restaurants and bars keeps rising. Three quarters of EU citizens are in favour of smoking bans at work places and in bars, but with big differences from Italy (88 per cent) to Czech Republic (41per cent).

It is therefore not surprising that smoking prevalence differs hugely between member countries, from Sweden with only 11 per cent smokers to Bulgaria (35 per cent) and Greece (38 per cent).

It is therefore more than worthwhile to pursue the “crusade” against smoking.

Following the Irish example the EU should spread the message for a “Smoke-Free Europe” until 2025, with no more than five per cent smokers.

Scandinavian countries and Ireland show that this might well be possible if EU and member countries join hands.

Member states should act according to their preferences and individual speed and, above all, learn from each other as to the most effective measures. Health ministers should convene twice a year for informal exchanges of experience.

To prevent youngsters from becoming addicted cigarettes a high price remains a powerful obstacle. must be made prohibitively expensive. Member states should therefore have no qualms of raising excise taxes up to 90 per cent of the retail price and having a package of 20 cigarettes cost more than € 10.

Neutral packages, on which the debate is presently inflamed, will hardly have a stronger deterrent impact than the aversive picture/text prints which must presently be shown on two thirds of the covers of all packages.

In conclusion, the EU must not slow down its fight against smoking. On the contrary, every human that is being spared from the pains of smoker-related disease and precocious death is precious; and every Euro that is not spent on tobacco-related disease finds much better use for education and social work.

It should therefore engage in a persuasive campaign for a “Tobacco -free Europe” by 2025.


Brussels 29.07. 2015 Eberhard Rhein

Author :
EurActiv Network