Martin Dockrell of Public Health England has celebrated the UK confirming its leading role in tobacco control by topping the Association of European Cancer Leagues’ Tobacco Control Scale 2019. The new ranking was presented at the 8th European Conference on Tobacco or Health (ECToH) in Berlin by Luk Joossens.
The Tobacco Control Scale website was launched at the 7th ECToH 2017 as a joint initiative of the Association of European Cancer Leagues and the Tobacco Control Unit of the Catalan Institute of Oncology, a WHO Collaborating Centre for Tobacco Control.
Martin Dockrell celebrated the announcement by saying: “Delighted and proud the UK is again top of the European league for tobacco control.”
In 2004, the European Network for Smoking Prevention (ENSP) provided a grant to Luk Joossens for a project to measure tobacco control activity at country level in Europe. A questionnaire was finalised with feedback from a panel of 10 international experts, researchers and specialists and sent to correspondents in 28 European countries who had agreed to fill in their country data.
This year, the United Kingdom tops the new European ranking with France and Ireland following behind. Germany, Switzerland and Luxembourg are at the bottom. The UK scored twice as highly as Germany in last place.
Dr. Martina Pötschke-Langer, President of ECToH and CEO of the German Smokefree Alliance (ABNR) said: “The extremely poor score of Germany is not surprising for us. Now is the time to act promptly and communicate the report’s results to those who can make a change, including the Ministries of Finances, Economy, Justice, Nutrition and Agriculture and Health. Priorities should be tobacco tax increases, comprehensive advertising and marketing bans, smokefree workplaces and public areas and effective smoking cessation programmes for smokers.”
Dr Sakari Karjalainen, President of ECL, welcomed the ranking update as, “an important policy tool in encouraging countries to strengthen their weak spots in tobacco control. We are very pleased that three countries with low scores in previous editions made huge progress.”
The report’s main author Luk Joossens added: “Plain packaging for cigarettes exists now in eight countries and should be the standard for all countries in the European Region.”
“Overall, countries which failed to undertake new initiatives lost points and fell in the ranking. The countries that are leading tobacco control in Europe are those that have comprehensive tobacco control policies.”
The report says: “The UK remains number one but is not doing well on funding (zero points) and is no longer the leader on prices (due to some extent to the weakness of the Pound). The UK is the second country in the world to adopt plain packaging legislation. England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland banned smoking in cars when minors are present. The UK ratified the WHO FCTC Illicit Trade Protocol.”
The comment accentuates the report’s shortcomings. There is not one mention of tobacco harm reduction (THR) or any THR products, including vaping. Clearly the greatest strides made by the UK has been to encourage switching away from cigarettes to e-cigs – but the WHO-centric focus refuses to acknowledge this.