More must be done to curb smoking habits, or Europe will face an overwhelming chronic disease problem in both economic and social terms, according to the European Commission's deputy director general health and consumers Martin Seychell.
Speaking at the European Respiratory Society (ERS) Annual Congress in Vienna, Austria, Seychell said his main concern was the number of young people smoking, with 29 per cent regularly taking part in the habit compared to an average of 28 per cent.
Describing tobacco smoking as the “single most avoidable cause of death” Seychell said plans to lower the number of people who smoke cigarettes should be part of any global response to tackle chronic diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Highlighting the importance of such efforts, Seychell told the ERS Congress that 87.5 per cent of deaths in the EU are as a result of chronic disease, with such numbers increasing pressure on healthcare systems and having a significantly negative effect on the productivity of the region's workforce.
Respiratory diseases and lung cancer in particular were highlighted as growing problems, but were also areas where the most could be done, with policies that target their main cause – smoking – the most amenable for EU politicians to implement.
“[With] the evidence that there is for the risk of tobacco, there's no excuse not to do anything,” Seychell said.
He did outline some anti-smoking successes, with a 20 per cent decrease in recent years in the number of Europeans who smoke, as bans on smoking in public areas have been implemented, alongside further restrictions on where tobaccos can be displayed and higher profile warning notices.
But these efforts have been “significant” rather than “sufficient”, Seychell said, and he added that the tobacco industry had adapted its efforts to the EC measures in order to keep people buying cigarettes.