Fondazione Umberto Veronesi in Conversation with ECO Chief Executive Mike Morrissey

19 May 2022

Fondazione Umberto Veronesi in conversation with ECO Chief Executive Mike Morrissey.

 How much does tobacco account for the overall cancer burden in Europe?

"Tobacco contributes to 20% of all cancers in Europe and half of all preventable cancers, which translates into approximately 750,000 preventable cancer cases in Europe each year. Currently, tobacco is the leading cause of more than ten types of cancer  and 82% of all lung cancers are due to smoking. Of course, risks and associated diseases are not limited to smoking, but secondhand smoke is also associated with cancers of the oral cavity, esophagus and pancreas."

What is being done to limit the harm of smoking?

"A European coordinated approach bringing together all stakeholders is needed. The European Commission, within the European Beating Cancer Plan, devotes particular interest to the fight against tobacco by setting the goal of achieving a 'smoke-free generation' for Europe. This strategy envisages having less than 5% of people using tobacco by 2040. This would mean a decrease of 20 percentage points, as today around 25% of EU citizens use tobacco. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) themselves, which Italy and all EU countries signed up to in 2016, call for a drastic reduction in tobacco use among adults.  

Nicotine, in addition to being addictive, is associated with an increased risk of diseases such as diabetes and has effects on the brain development of adolescents. What should not be forgotten is that many smokers would like to quit but find it difficult to do so. Action must be taken both on non-smokers by conducting awareness-raising campaigns emphasizing the irreversible damage tobacco can cause and at the same time implementing policies to support anyone who wants to quit smoking."

How can tobacco taxation help? How is Italy doing compared to other European countries?

"Tobacco taxation is one of the most effective tools to combat tobacco consumption, especially to deter young people and non-smokers in general from using tobacco. Clearly it must be part of successful national strategies against tobacco use, and we consider that initiatives such as Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan can play an important role in persuading countries to work together on shared goals for reduced tobacco use. All countries could go further faster on tobacco control and it is our aspiration that the best practices from countries that take a lead can be quickly shared and adopted by others. 

The Tobacco Control Scale website is an excellent tool in this respect, scoring the performance of countries across Europe on their tobacco control policies. Leader countries include the UK, France, Ireland and Iceland, and all, notably, use tobacco pricing as a key policy lever. Italy is noted in the latest edition as not having made significant progress on tobacco control policy since the 2005 ban on smoking in cars in the presence of minors."

What are the challenges of implementing effective policies?

"In Europe, an estimated 1.65 million lung cancer cases could be prevented over a 20-year period with the highest-level implementation of tobacco control policies. We know that tobacco control policies work, and produce desirable policy results, including reduced mortality from cancer. 

Further to this, we also know just how effective tobacco taxation is within the suite of tobacco control policy tools all countries possess. A 10% increase in price, for example, can lead to a 4-5% decrease in demand for cigarettes.  

What is required therefore is the political will and determination for policy implementation. We call on politicians all over Europe to make the region a beacon to the rest of the globe, showing what can be achieved. We encourage countries within Europe to engage in a spirit of positive competition to bring about the reductions in consumption envisaged by their Government’s pre-existing commitments to targets such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals and Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan. 

Through the kind of pioneering tobacco control policy work of organisations such as Fondazione Umberto Veronesi, we are confident that the message will be increasingly heard and acted upon in Italy and elsewhere: there can be no let up in the momentum against tobacco. We owe it to our citizens health, our health services and our globally shared fight against cancer."