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Smoking Levels in the WHO European Region have Stabilized

Armen Hareyan's picture

Most European countries have adopted stricter smoking policies, but greater efforts are needed to reduce smoking levels significantly.

The European tobacco control report 2007, now published, presents an overview of tobacco use and tobacco-related harm in the Region, and reports progress in tobacco control at national and international levels since 2002 when the European Strategy for Tobacco Control was adopted. It also creates a baseline for monitoring progress in implementing the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. The publication of the report coincides with the second anniversary of the entry into force of the Framework Convention and the fifth anniversary of the WHO Ministerial Conference and Warsaw Declaration for a Tobacco-free Europe.

Tobacco remains the leading contributor to the disease burden in most of WHO's European Member States. It also accounts for considerable economic costs. According to World Bank estimates, tobacco-related health care costs range from 0.1% to 1.1% of GDP in different countries.

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Current estimates indicate that 40.0% of men and 18.2% of women smoke daily compared to
40.9% and 17.8%, respectively, in 2002. The sustained positive trend in the numbers of male smokers in many countries has led to a fall in death rates from lung cancer among men across the Region, but lung cancer rates among women are still increasing. Among young people, around 25% of 15-year-olds smoke every week and there has been no significant change in this level in recent years. The prevalence of smoking among 15-year-old girls in many western European countries exceeds that among 15-year-old boys, while the reverse is true in eastern Europe.

Between 2002 and 2006, most countries in the Region made significant progress in banning advertising, increasing the size of health warnings, strengthening product regulation and, to some extent, raising taxes on tobacco. In the European Union countries between 2001 and 2005, the price of tobacco products rose by an annual average of 6.8% above the rate of inflation compared to the previous annual rate of increase of 2.7%. In some countries, however, notably those in the eastern part of the Region, tobacco became cheaper during this period. Most countries still do not earmark tobacco tax revenue for tobacco control.

Major developments have also occurred since 2002 in the field of smoke-free policies. Led by the examples set by Ireland and Norway, many countries have passed stricter laws banning smoking in public places. Some of these bans also cover bars and restaurants, and currently almost two thirds of European countries have bans or restrictions on smoking in most indoor public places - a substantial improvement since 2001. Policy challenges remain in many countries, however, particularly concerning restrictions on indirect advertising, the introduction of smoking cessation through the national health care system and, above all, combating smuggling.

Although the level of smoking has in general stabilized in the European Region and is decreasing in some countries, it is not falling significantly. Stable and even in some cases increasing trends in women are of particular concern. Countries must use the current momentum, as well as harness increased public support in recent years for tougher controls, to further implement the recommendations outlined in the European Strategy for Tobacco Control and the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. This will create a turning-point in combating the tobacco epidemic in the Region.

The European tobacco control report 2007 outlines a number of additional areas where, by strengthening controls, European Member States could make a considerable contribution to reducing the large health burden associated with tobacco consumption.