Tobacco products directive: MEPs send 'strong message' on commitment to protect Europe's youth

Parliament's endorsement of the new tobacco products directive is a 'significant step towards' providing a more healthy future for future generations, writes Roberto Bertollini.

By Roberto Bertollini

28 Feb 2014

For several years now, the World Health Organization (WHO) has been engaged in the anti –tobacco battle, putting forward the overwhelming scientific evidence on the huge and growing public health burden that tobacco use imposes on society: 

Across the European Union, we estimate 700,000 deaths attributable to tobacco every year while globally one in every two smokers will die of a tobacco related disease. 

Our efforts culminated in the adoption of the WHO framework convention on tobacco control which is the first international treaty negotiated under the auspices of the WHO, containing legally binding obligations for its 177 Parties setting the foundation for reducing both demand for and supply of tobacco products and providing a comprehensive direction for tobacco control policy at all levels. 

The endorsement of the new tobacco products directive by the European parliament today is a significant step towards the right direction, fills the legislative gaps and aims at providing a more healthy future for future generations. 

It is exactly these young generations of citizens that the new legislation mainly sought to protect, based on the solid fact that the vast majority of tobacco users worldwide began tobacco use when they are adolescents. This is why the tobacco industry's sophisticated marketing techniques actually target this specific audience.

We have supported those MEPs who decided to embark on this battle by providing them with scientific evidence on the different issues addressed by the directive. In this context, a seminar was organised in the parliament last year in order to present to decision-makers the most effective key measures to reduce smoking. 

Prominent scientists as well as representatives from the European commission and NGOs shared their expertise and insight on best policies to tackle tobacco use, which, especially among women and adolescent girls, is accelerating at an alarming rate in Europe. 

[pullquote]Although the initial proposal did not remain intact throughout the legislative procedure, we definitely maintain that the legislation endorsed today by the parliament marks a new era in the fight for a healthier world[/pullquote]. 

Today's vote does not only make us feel happy but also – and most importantly - makes us feel optimistic. Our optimism comes from the fact that our society, through its representatives in the parliament, managed to rise to the challenge and prioritise the benefit of the whole community over that of powerful interest groups.

Today, our representatives in the parliament decided that our society and especially our fragile health systems cannot continue to bear the human and economic burden of chronic diseases such as cancer, lung and cardiovascular diseases, for which the tobacco use is one of the main risk factors. 

They decided, in the end, that our children are entitled to a healthier future. And this is the strong message that has been sent today and concerns all European policy makers: in a continent with a rapidly ageing population, as Europe, leaving our young generations unprotected is a future we can ill afford.