Symposium on Tobacco Control organized jointly with the World Health Organization

During the day, the Tobacco Control Scale was presented which describes the actions taken for tobacco control implemented in the 27 countries of the European Union plus 10 non-EU countries and which places the Spanish State in a situation very similar to that presented in the last edition in the year 2019


Researchers from the IDIBELL and the Catalan Institute of Oncology (ICO) tobacco control research group, and the World Health Organization (WHO) organized last Friday the symposium on smoking control with the presence of more than a hundred attendees. A day that served to review current policies and propose future challenges with the scientific community and those responsible for this area from all over and that had the presence at the inauguration of the Minister of Health of the Generalitat of Catalonia, Manel Balcells, and in closing the Secretary of Public Health, Carmen Cabezas. 

The Minister of Health, Manel Balcells, highlighted that tobacco is one of the priorities of the Health Plan since, to date, there are still one and a half million smokers, and this figure has remained the same since 2017. For this reason, he insisted on the need to carry out measures to reduce the use of tobacco, such as banning it on terraces or in specific spaces, limiting covert advertising, having stricter control of electronic cigarettes or being able to help people quit of smoking, through more affordable treatments, especially for the most vulnerable groups in our society, among others.

During the day, in the afternoon session, the Tobacco Control Scale was also presented, a ranking that describes the actions taken for tobacco control in the 27 countries of the European Union plus 10 non-EU countries and which assesses the level of implementation of tobacco control policies. The Tobacco Control Scale was created in 2006 by international experts Luk Joossens and Martin Raw and is based on six policies that serve to evaluate the level of implementation of tobacco control policies in each country. 

Presentation of the Tobacco Control Scale 2021
In this year’s edition you can see the evolution of tobacco control policies since its last edition in 2019 and shows that, at present, there are still 17 countries that have obtained less than 50 points, very indicative of the need to act urgently to reverse this situation. 

Ireland and the United Kingdom are the highest scoring countries (both with 82 points out of 100) along with France in third place with 71 points. These countries are doing very well with their tobacco control policies. In this regard, Ireland has the highest price of a pack of cigarettes in all of Europe (€15.40 per pack). Conversely, Switzerland and Bosnia-Herzegovina are the countries with the lowest score (35 and 25 points respectively). 

Among the countries that have significantly improved their position we can find the Netherlands and Denmark, with an increase of 9 points compared to the 2019 edition. This is basically due to the increase in tobacco taxes and the implementation of packaging neutral or generic of tobacco. Importantly, 11 other countries (United Kingdom, France, Ireland, Norway, Turkey, Slovenia, Belgium, Israel, Hungary, Netherlands and Denmark) have also implemented plain packaging and, it seems, Finland will do so in 2023. “Neutral packaging currently exists in eleven countries, but it should be a standard for all countries on the European continent,” says Luk Joossens of the Smoke Free Partnership, adding, “the scale shows us that there is still room for improvement in tobacco control policies.” 

The Spanish State could improve its position
In the case of the Spanish State, despite maintaining 58 points on the scale as in the 2019 edition, loses a position in the ranking and is placed in 11th position. “Spain is an example of a state that, despite having progressed in tobacco control in recent decades, has remained stagnant” comments Esteve Fernández, head of the IDIBELL and the ICO tobacco control research group and co-author of the report, who adds that “we have pending subjects for tobacco control, such as price increases and neutral packaging, measures demanded by the country’s scientific and civil societies repeatedly and theoretically contemplated in the Comprehensive Plan of Smoking and the new legislation on tobacco retained for more than a year in the Ministry of Health”. 

Spain’s score has not progressed since “despite improving in aspects such as support for smokers to quit or smoke-free beach experiences, we hardly increased tobacco taxes during the last 10 years,” says Ariadna Feliu, researcher at IDIBELL, ICO and IARC, and co-author of the report. Feliu also highlights the lack of resources for tobacco control in Spain and the rest of the countries, possibly due to the COVID-19 pandemic since “none of the 37 countries on the list manage to spend 2 euros per capita in the tobacco control and, in some countries, funding has even been reduced in recent years.” 

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