Spanish NGO pushes for Europe’s first tobacco-free generation

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A cigarette burns in an ashtray.

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Brussels on Wednesday registered a bid to push for Europe’s first tobacco-free generation.

Spanish public health NGO NoFumadores wants the European Commission to legislate to “save new generations from falling into tobacco addiction, to act against related environmental dangers and against smoking”.

In particular, they want to ban the sale of tobacco and nicotine products to citizens born after 2009, as well as tobacco advertising and the presence of tobacco in audiovisual productions and social media.

They also want to create a network of tobacco and cigarette butt-free national parks and extend outdoor vapour-free spaces.

The European Commission has registered the NGO’s bid to make this happen, which is referred to as a citizen’s initiative in Brussels.

Now organisers have six months to gather the one million signatures — from at least seven member states — needed for the European Commission to look at the issue and potentially legislate. 

According to the latest data from Eurostat, 18.4% of the EU population aged 15 years or more reported being daily cigarette smokers in 2019. 

Nearly 29% of Bulgaria’s population over 15 were daily cigarette smokers, the highest share in the bloc. The eastern European country was followed by Greece (23.6%) and Latvia (22.1%). The lowest shares could be found in Luxembourg (10.5%), Finland (9.9%) and Sweden (6.4%). 

Tobacco smoking accounts for one in five cancer cases across the EU, figures from Cancer Prevention Europe show. More than half of these 757,600 preventable cases are of lung cancer which killed more than 257,000 EU citizens in 2020. 

If the Commission was to decide to legislate to curb access to tobacco products, it would follow in the footsteps of New Zealand, whose government introduced a plan for a “smokefree nation” last December. 

It entailed slowly increasing the purchase age from 18 to 21 or 25 by 2025 with the government citing research that 80% of smokers start before the age of 18 and 97% before 25 as the main reason. 

Denmark’s government already unveiled a plan earlier this year to ban the sale of tobacco products to anyone born after 2010 but it was derailed because of EU rules which make it impossible for member states to ban or restrict tobacco marketing. 

Such a plan, health minister Magnus Heunicke recognised, would require a change to the (EU) tobacco directive.

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