Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan forms a core part of Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakiades’ strategic approach to addressing non-communicable diseases in Europe. A pan-European strategy to combat cancer is long overdue. Perhaps, without exception, the entire public health community in Europe welcomes Kyriakiades’ initiative in tackling what is the second leading cause of death in Europe.
On September 10, the Commission held a town hall to review the Beating Cancer Plan. This open approach by the Commission to the full involvement of scientific experts and citizens demonstrated the potential of such a dialogue to improve the plan and more readily face the disastrous effects of cancer on the health, economy, and overall well-being of the EU.
Of the submissions to the Plan’s public consultation, nearly 20% supported the adoption of harm reduction measures for alcohol and tobacco. One in every six recommended policies encouraged the use of reduced-risk nicotine products by smokers, including the well-considered regulation of e-cigarettes as an integral part of a strategy to beat cancer. While the town hall’s panel did not directly reference these submissions, the town hall’s audience continually raised the potential benefits of a well-defined strategy for harm reduction as an integral part of the Beating Cancer Plan.
Each year 3.5 million people in the EU are diagnosed with cancer. Each year 1.3 million EU citizens die from cancer. And yet, over 40% of cancer cases are preventable. The EU needs a Beating Cancer Plan that relies, not only on a cure to smoking, but also on proven health measures that reduce harm, reduce significantly the highly probable death sentence of combustible cigarettes.
The World Health Organisation estimates that one in every two smokers will develop a tobacco-related disease. Approximately 18% of the EU’s 446 million citizens smoke cigarettes on a daily basis. 90% of lung cancers alone can be prevented by eliminating cigarette smoking in Europe.
Europe now needs a comprehensive approach to dealing with the effects of smoking-induced cancers in Europe. The Commission must deal effectively with the question of how to tackle these preventable cancers.
Tobacco harm reduction presents an immediate and effective response to the smoking population. The use of reduced-risk products, like e-cigarettes, can potentially eliminate smoking-induced cancer in Europe within a generation. Increasingly we see smokers, European citizens, themselves making this life-saving choice to move away from cigarettes toward vaping and similar products with far fewer toxins, far fewer health risks. Commissioner Kyriakiades’ Beating Cancer Plan needs to be inclusive. It cannot, indeed it must not abandon these European citizens and their choices in pursuit of a healthier lifestyle.
EU countries, such as Sweden, which have adopted a science-based approach to reduce their smoking prevalence and smoking-related deaths, have shown a potential way forward to reduce tobacco-induced cancers through harm reduction. Offering tobacco alternatives, such as snus, has helped Sweden to achieve the lowest tobacco-related mortality rate of all EU countries.
While approximately 179,000 EU citizens have died so far as a result of COVID-19, 700,000 die each year from smoking. In an attempt to quell the devastation caused by the pandemic, EU institutions and member state governments immediately turned to science and evidence to inform policy. Lockdowns were implemented and social distancing became normalised.
This sense of pragmatism and efficiency must be mirrored by the Commission’s Beating Cancer Plan.
The town hall demonstrated the value of bringing together the diversity of Europe’s populations into dialogue in developing a health policy that affects directly hundreds of thousands of people and impacts the lives of every EU citizen.
Europe must now move forward together with a Beating Cancer Plan that has a well-considered harm-reduction e-cigarette strategy included in it. Europe cannot abandon any segment of its population to cancer, including smokers. Abandoning them will not eradicate smoking. It will only mean ignoring the core problems behind smoking and excluding these citizens from the benefits of an inclusive Beating Cancer Plan.