Aspiring to a tobacco-free future in Europe

Copenhagen and Ashgabat, 4 December 2013

Encouraged by the benefits of reduced tobacco consumption, the 53 Member States in the WHO European Region pledged to accelerate their efforts to fully implement the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) by signing the Ashgabat Declaration during the WHO Ministerial Conference on the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases in the Context of Health 2020, held in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan on 3–4 December 2013.

Until now, tobacco-control activity has focused on taxation, pricing and demand reduction by providing smoking-cessation support, adding warnings on cigarette packs and reducing the number of places where tobacco can legally be used. The next step will address supply as well as demand, aiming for a fundamental denormalization of the use of tobacco. Three countries are leading the way towards a tobacco-free Europe by announcing deadlines for reducing tobacco use to less than 5% of the population: 2025 for Ireland, 2034 for the United Kingdom (Scotland) and 2040 for Finland (through annual reductions of 10%).

The Conference brought together policy-makers from WHO’s European Member States to consider measures for tobacco control that could be used to reduce the number of deaths from cardiovascular diseases, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and other noncommunicable diseases. Many countries have already taken action to control tobacco use. For example, hospitalizations for myocardial infarction decreased dramatically within only a few months of the implementation of bans on smoking in public places: by 30% in Spain, 34% in Turkey and 17% in the United Kingdom (Scotland).

WHO FCTC implementation requires more than a signature

Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, said, “Although almost all European countries have ratified the FCTC, its success requires more than signatures. The Region still has a long way to go to implementation. Some countries have taken courageous leaps and others are just beginning the process. The evidence for effective policies is overwhelming, but political will and concerted regional action are needed – we need strong leaders to issue strong policies.”

Despite the progress made, the European Region is a long way from full implementation of the FCTC. This creates loopholes that the tobacco industry can exploit. Although some countries have achieved historic lows in smoking prevalence, 28% of European adults still smoke: the highest proportion among all WHO regions.

Various measures have proved to be extremely effective in lowering consumption:

  • increasing prices of and taxes on tobacco products;
  • introducing strong health warnings, including pictorial warnings on cigarette packs;
  • banning marketing and sponsorship; and
  • banning tobacco use in public places.

Tobacco control in Europe is important for the following reasons:

  • tobacco use is the most preventable cause of death and disease;
  • 16% of all deaths (about 1.6 million each year) are attributable to tobacco;
  • about 180 people per hour die from tobacco-related causes;
  • although only 14% of the world’s population lives in Europe, the Region accounts for a disproportionate share of global tobacco-related deaths: more than 1 in 4; and
  • a comprehensive set of tobacco-control measures can successfully fight tobacco.

Gauden Galea, Director of the Division of Noncommunicable Diseases and the Life-course at WHO/Europe, said “The Conference created a forum where policy-makers in Europe could build a common resolve, resist big tobacco and stand together for health.”

For further information, contact:

Tina Kiaer
Communications Officer
Tel.: +45 51 979 247 (mobile)

Stephanie Brickman
Communications Officer
Tel.: +45 45 33 68 44, + 45 40 874 876 (mobile)