Friday, February 4, 2011

Working together to prevent cancer

Today is World Cancer Day. Sadly many of us have been touched by cancer in one way or another, with cancer accounting for a quarter of all deaths in the EU. However up to 40% of cancers are preventable, and we have a lot of work to do in raising awareness of how smoking and drinking, diet and exercise and staying safe in the sun can be factors in the development of the disease.

This Wednesday I hosted an event in the European Parliament to mark World Cancer Day. Although it is the governments of EU countries which have overall responsibility for health policies, we know there is still a vital role for the EU in preventing cancer.

One example would be something I'm doing presently, as the lead for the Socialist and Democrats group on the Food Information proposals. I am fighting for it to be obligatory for food manufacturers to state the amount of calories, salt, sugar, fat and saturated fat their products contain on the front of the pack. Unfortunately I have lost my battle for a mandatory colour coded 'traffic light' scheme for now, but this is something I will continue to campaign for. If we're serious about people making healthier choices then it is crucial we inform people of what's in the food they're buying, because we know that poor nutrition and obesity can be a factor in the development of many cancers.

Later in the year we are expecting to see the revision of the Tobacco Products Directive, which covers maximum amounts of things such as tar and nicotine allowed in cigarettes and other tobacco products. It also regulates the way tobacco companies can present and package their products, including the written health warnings. I am calling for standardised cigarette packages which would have to display a large image warning of the effects of smoking, and the banning of chemicals which make cigarettes 'smoother' or improve the flavour. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable cancers, so the legislation must be more effective at discouraging people to smoke, especially young people.

The EU is a great forum for us to learn from each other, to raise awareness, and to coordinate research. It is important that we work together to reach our shared goal of beating preventable cancers.

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