Belgian Health Minister Calls for More EU Action Against Tobacco

Belgian Health Minister Calls for More EU Action Against Tobacco
31.03.2024

The EU needs more initiatives to tackle tobacco use and to create a healthy environment focused on prevention, said Frank Vandenbroucke, health minister of Belgium.

“I would like to say to the tobacco industry, guys, you have no future,” Belgian Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke told delegates at the high-level conference on the future of the Health Union in Brusssels (26-27 March).

The need to reduce the consumption of alcohol and tobacco was one of the main topics discussed during the events as it was also one of the goals of Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan presented by the European Commission in 2021.

One of the four pillars of this plan was prevention, aiming to ensure that fewer than five per cent of the population consumes tobacco by 2040.

“We must ensure that preventive action set out in the European beating cancer plan can translate into tangible results, this is just crucial for the well-being of Europeans,” he explained, highlighting its importance also for the financial sustainability of healthcare systems.

Tobacco use, alcohol consumption and unhealthy diets among others are listed as one of the leading risk factors not only for cancer but also other non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.

The World Health Organization (WHO) states that “an important way to control NCDs is to focus on reducing risk factors associated with these diseases.”

“Prevention is a cheap option in terms of money, it’s expensive in terms of political capital and courage,” said Vandenbroucke.

Despite being widely proven that investment in health promotion and disease prevention can result in healthier populations and reduce healthcare costs and the sustainability of health systems, OECD countries allocate less than 3% of their health spending on average to public health and prevention activities.

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Need to address underlying issues

Belgium’s Health Minister stressed that the challenge is to create an environment that empowers people to have a healthy lifestyle based on information and tackling inequalities.

“One of the things we miss the most is the information about how we can live a healthy life while not having enough money to pay for things and the information about how to buy cheaper foods that are still healthy is missing,” he gave as an example.

Vandenbroucke criticised tobacco and alcohol industry business models. The unequal impact on society of such business models that “exploit our human weakness” are little understood, he said, conditioned by the information received and the level of understanding, but also the level of stress people suffer and their financial situation.

“The role of the EU in creating an environment, a market that promotes a healthy lifestyle is key, and I think it is underrated,” said Vandenbroucke. He added that he is waiting for more initiatives regarding tobacco and alcohol, “stuff that is on the internal market and is an internal market competence.”

The European Union has addressed these issues in various initiatives through the mandate, however, not all of them will see port before the European elections in June.

The main legislative tools envisioned for guarding tobacco have been slowly disregarded over the past four years.

The EU Council recommendation on smoke-free environments, updating the current 2009 guidelines, was expected for January before being delayed.

The Tobacco Taxation directive, firstly planned for 2021 was later delayed to 2025 and the revision of the EU Tobacco Products Directive will also be passed on to the next Commission.

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