CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
Your Excellency Mr President,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted to join you today at this important conference.
I would like to thank the Portuguese League against Cancer and the Association of the European Cancer Leagues for bringing us together on this important issue - TOBACCO OR HEALTH.
Telling you about the number of deaths, diseases, illnesses and suffering, environment pollution, impact on non-smokers, billions of euros for treatment – all of it because of tobacco – is the same as me preaching to the converted. You all know that. And we are here to think what we can do about it.
Some people say smoking is a matter of choice. Is it really? Do you have a choice if you start smoking as a teenager, as most people do, and then get addicted? Addiction is not a choice!
Do you have a choice if you use a product that can kill you – and you did not know about it? Is it your choice to get ill or to make other people ill because of your addiction?
This is why we, together, have taken decisive action to regulate tobacco products.
In 2014, the European Union adopted the Tobacco Products Directive – some of the most ambitious tobacco control provisions in the world.
Since last spring, this new law bans all attractive, colourful and flavoured tobacco products throughout the EU. Tobacco should look and taste like tobacco. It should not look like perfume or lipstick; it should not taste like candy of fruit - all this makes it appealing for children to start smoking.
These products are now forbidden in the European Union. The new law also makes it obligatory for all packs of cigarettes to be covered by photos and text warnings about the dangers of smoking.
These show, clearly, the devastating consequences of smoking; and I hope it will help teenagers make the right choice in saying "no" to that first cigarette; which could trigger a lifetime of addiction
I urge all Member States to enforce these laws strictly, to make sure that what we have in paper is the reality in your countries. I am pleased that Portugal was one of the very first EU countries to start applying this law.
Evidence shows that people are less likely to smoke if packs display these warnings uninterrupted by branding, logos and marketing designs. This is what we call plain packaging.
This is why five Member States have decided to make plain packaging of tobacco products obligatory in their countries. This is an excellent example for the rest of Europe.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I was shocked when I learned that, in Europe, almost one in every four 13 years old school children have already smoked!
This begs the question: how do children get hold of cigarettes? Are these illicit cigarettes? If so, the solution is to eliminate illicit trade. Or are these from a shop where nobody checked about minimum age? If so, the solution is solid enforcement.
Indeed, to protect our children and to reduce smoking altogether a wide range of measures are needed.
I urge all countries to use all the tools at their disposal, across policies, for this purpose. Let me mention a few.
Make all public spaces smoke free – beaches, parks, sport facilities, and also cars with children
Enforce minimum age rules
Regulate sales arrangements, including vending machines, or displays at shops
Reduce exposure to advertising
Use pricing and taxation
Raise awareness about tobacco in schools and other settings, reaching out to the most vulnerable, to bridge inequalities across social groups
Promote responsible behaviour
Help smokers stop smoking
Eliminate illicit trade
All these measures can help protect children – and other vulnerable people - against the harmful effects of smoking; can help smokers quit; and give citizens the possibility to live healthy lives.
Or should we stand and do nothing while children smoke away their future or are exposed to second hand-smoking?
A couple of weeks ago, travelling from Strasbourg to Brussels, I stopped at a petrol station and I saw a young couple smoking – smoking right next to their two small children.
One person's freedom to smoke cannot override another person's right not be exposed to carcinogenics! This is a violation of children's rights.
I applaud Member States such as Finland and Ireland – who are now pursuing the goal of establishing a tobacco-free society in their countries. I fully support this.
It comes as no surprise that the countries ranking the highest - in the new Tobacco Control Scale presented earlier - are implementing well some of the measures I have mentioned.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank everybody here today for your commitment and your support.
We still have a lot of work to do together.
We must ensure that the Illicit Trade Protocol of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control is ratified as soon as possible. The European Union has ratified the Protocol last June. I am really pleased that both Portugal and Spain were amongst the first countries to ratify this Protocol – and I urge all EU countries to do the same.
We need more implementation and enforcement of existing laws, real change on the ground.
We also need a solid system to track and trace all tobacco products throughout Europe. This is key to clamp down on illicit trade and to ensure that all products comply with EU law. The European Commission is right now preparing implementing legislation for this purpose.
In addition, we must follow closely the scientific and market developments regarding electronic cigarettes – these should not become the gateway for new smokers.
And if eCigarettes are to be considered as a possible smoking cessation tool, then they need to be authorised as pharmaceuticals and sold in pharmacies.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We have come a long way in tobacco control in the past few years. But we still have a long way to go.
Let us all join forces and work together - with unshakeable commitment - towards a tobacco-free Europe.