Distinguished guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak with you today.

And I am particularly excited by this year’s theme.

Yesterday I participated in the Global Forum on Human rights and a Tobacco-Free World. We had an opportunity to touch different aspects of human rights: right to smoke-free environment, right to breathe clean air, right to clean drinking water and our obligation to protect children from tobacco influence and harm.

In today’s speech, I would like to stress the need for action.

The United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development reflects our shared aspirations for a more just, more equal, and healthier world.

Tobacco control plays a crucial part in that effort.

But today, tobacco is still the largest avoidable health risk in the EU.

More than 1 in 4 Europeans smoke.

And the amount of young smokers has increased from 25% to 29% in recent years.

So we have work to do.

We urgently need to accelerate tobacco control and maximise the contribution it can make to sustainable development.

Events like this are an important step towards that goal. I have many expectations, because the time is ticking. Eleven years left to realize Sustainable Development Goals. I am very happy that during the last four years we succeeded some progress on health, but we have to do more.

As you know, the implementation of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) is a specific target of the SDGs.

The Parties to the FCTC recently adopted an overarching Global Strategy to accelerate tobacco control.

It outlines clear priorities for action and will guide the implementation of the Convention until 2025.

I want to take this opportunity to recognise the important contribution made by the NGO community in developing this strategic framework.  

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The EU is determined to do its part when it comes to the SDGs and will continue its firm support to the FCTC.

I want to take a few moments to discuss what this support looks like in practice.

First, I should say that tobacco is not like any other article on the Single Market.

We are determined to protect citizens through strong regulation of tobacco products as well as their advertising, marketing, promotion and sponsorship.

The new Tobacco Products Directive is a key piece of legislation in this regard.

One of its core aims is to make tobacco products less attractive to young people.

For example, picture and text warnings now cover 65 percent of the front and back of cigarette packs.

Some EU countries are going even further and are implementing plain packaging measures.

The Directive includes bans on promotional and misleading elements on tobacco products, stronger regulation of ingredients and the introduction of the new tracking and tracing system for tobacco products.

But I am still frustrated at how easily young people can get hold of tobacco products.

I am also disturbed by their level of exposure to tobacco marketing.

Illicit trade multiples these dangers – and make it easier to buy cheaper products that are less likely to carry health warnings.

Illicit trade also fuels the shadow economy, is often the domain of organised criminal groups and is responsible for annual financial losses of over 10 billion EUR to the EU and its Member States.

The track and trace system, which is being rolled out this year, was designed to address the illicit trade by securing the supply chain. 

Starting with cigarettes and roll-your-own tobacco, the cross-border track and trace system is due to start this May.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Tobacco Products Directive is also the first comprehensive legislation regulating e-cigarettes and novel tobacco products.

The market share of these products is rapidly growing and I am worried that some of these are especially attractive to young people.

Young people are exposed to aggressive and probably misleading marketing, involving claims that these products are better and smoke-free alternatives to conventional cigarettes.

We cannot allow these new products to circumvent existing tobacco control measures, such as provisions for smoke-free environments or comprehensive bans on advertising, promotion and sponsorship.

I want to assure you that we will monitor these products carefully and regulate them appropriately.

Here again, the FCTC and the most recent Decision on novel products adopted at its last Conference of the Parties, will guide us forward.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I cannot stress enough the need to step outside our public health bubble.

Impactful health policies need buy in from agriculture, education, customs and trade sectors, from the world of culture and entertainment and from town planning and taxation.

This is equally true for tobacco control – and this is why the FCTC takes a holistic approach to tobacco.

So I was delighted to see that your conference will address taxation.

Let me recall that strengthening pricing measures by every country and jurisdiction is one of the main priorities of the Global Strategy for FCTC implementation.

It is clear that tobacco taxation can be an important tool and the European Commission is determined to maximise its potential.

This is the very reason why we are currently reviewing the Tobacco Taxation Directive.

The evaluation will analyse the structure, minimum rates, cross-border shopping and illicit trade patterns and the treatment of novel products such as electronic cigarettes and heated tobacco products.

Ultimately, it will guide our efforts to reduce tobacco consumption and raise taxes that can be used to support tobacco control initiatives.

Colleagues,

Many of us have been working in tobacco control for decades.

We understand that success in this field is hard-won.

At every turn, we have faced strong interference from a ruthless tobacco industry.

Now more than ever, we must shield our efforts from undue pressure.

All meetings, policies and measures taken at international or national level must be free of influence from the tobacco industry and other vested interests.

Here again, the FCTC -- in article 5.3. and its guidelines -- sets the standard.

But protecting our public policies is a collaborative effort.

The FCTC was signed and ratified by the whole government of a Party, and not just the health ministry.

That means its provisions must be respected and protected by all sectors of government.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Despite our best efforts, tobacco still kills 7 million people prematurely around the world every year.

But events like this – which gather experts from around the world – give me hope for the future.

I see that you have three full days of work ahead of you. This is an excellent opportunity to:

  • address the challenges of novel products;
  • discuss tobacco taxation;
  • examine traceability systems for tobacco products; and
  • share best practice.

All the while, you are forging effective partnerships across sectors.

I know you also have sessions on EU initiatives and projects, like the Joint Action on Tobacco Control.

This three-year collaborative action gathers dozens of partners from 31 countries, including 25 Member States.

As you can see, this is truly a pan-European initiative and I have no doubt that it will deliver tangible benefits to citizens.

Ultimately, that is also the aim of today’s event – to deliver concrete health benefits to Europeans.

The European Union will continue to take decisive action on tobacco control and do everything in our power to implement the FCTC.

We will focus even more on enhancing cross-sectorial collaboration and factor tobacco control into a range of other EU policies.

Two months ago, the Commission presented the evaluation of SDGs. I am very happy that on SDG’s goal 3. We have done the biggest achievement.

And I assure you that we will continue to mobilise all our resources to implement the Sustainable Development Agenda in the EU and beyond.

I look forward to partnering with you all in these efforts.

I am very happy to meet so many dedicated people, but I encourage us to be more effective. We need to have result in 2030. Every Member State has to have a detailed calendar of actions on the ground. I expect a lot of support from NGOs.

Four days in Romania dedicated to tobacco control: high-level conferences, speeches, discussions, commitments.

And what’s next?

Tomorrow’s sustainable development starts now – time to accelerate tobacco control! Time to accelerate it on the ground!

That is the answer!

Thank you.