EU wants higher taxes on cigarettes

ILast year 1.4 million Europeans died of cancer, three times as many as on and with Covid-19. Although the pandemic overshadowed everything else, including and especially in Brussels, the EU Commission set a different accent on Wednesday. “Beating Cancer” – that is the name of the plan that she presented before World Cancer Day. Ursula von der Leyen has committed to this topic. Manfred Weber, the chairman of the Christian-Democratic EPP, had thus contested his European election campaign as the top candidate.

Thomas Gutschker

Political correspondent for the European Union, NATO and the Benelux countries based in Brussels.

It has been a long time since the EU Commission took the initiative in this field. The last action plan is from the early 1990s. Preventive health care is first and foremost a matter for the Member States. However, the Commission is not left empty-handed. On the one hand, it has the money to support programs and enforce uniform standards in the fight against cancer. Four billion euros are to be available for this in the next few years, mainly from the budgets for health and research, which have been increased in the course of the corona aid. On the other hand, the Commission sets the legal framework when it comes to advertising and taxation of tobacco products and alcohol. She now wants to use this power in cancer prevention.

2.7 million cancers

Last year 2.7 million of the 450 million EU citizens were newly diagnosed with cancer. According to EU data, forty percent of the cases are lifestyle-related and could be avoided. This is especially true of smoking, which accounts for 27 percent of all cancers. The commission sets the goal of reducing the proportion of smokers – currently a quarter of the population – to below five percent by 2040. She speaks of the goal of the first “tobacco-free generation”.

This is to be achieved through higher taxes on tobacco products, further restrictions on tobacco advertising and sponsorship, especially on social media, and the expansion of smoke-free zones to outdoor areas and e-cigarettes by 2023.

The Commission also sees a need for action in the case of “harmful alcohol consumption”; it is to be reduced by ten percent by 2025. She is considering higher taxes and wants to require health warnings on bottles by 2023, similar to those on cigarettes. However, the Vice President of the EU Commission, Margaritis Schinas, restricted on Wednesday that this does not apply to wine, of course, that it has been “part of the European way of life since ancient times”. When asked what is “harmful”, the Greek did not want to commit: science and “personal experience” decide.

EU: Equal chances of survival for all

The early detection of cancer should play a central role. There are big differences between the Member States. In some Member States, only five percent of women are screened for breast cancer, while in others it is up to 90 percent. With financial support from Brussels, this goal is to be achieved in all EU countries by 2025, including for cervical cancer and colon cancer. “We have to ensure that all patients have the same chance of survival, no matter where they live in the EU,” said EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides, who is in charge of the issue. Inequalities should be documented in a register.

The plan contains a total of ten time-related initiatives that the Commission intends to promote. Before the end of this year, a center is to be set up to bundle knowledge about cancer. It should be possible to use patient data in anonymised form to advance research.

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