Tuesday, June 7, 2011

To fight cancer we must look at both treatment and prevention

Last Saturday I took part in the Race for Life in Nottingham to raise money and awareness for Cancer Research UK. Along with 'Team Glenis' and thousands of other women we ran, walked and jogged 5km, contributing to the staggering £362 million raised to date by women taking part in Race for Life events across the country. Cancer is a disease that sadly touches all of us in one way or another, and I was proud to take part in such a positive event dedicated to fighting it.

In much of my work in the European Parliament I aim to help the fight against cancer. Last Tuesday was World No Tobacco Day, and I hosted an event in the Parliament with the Smoke Free Partnership to celebrate the achievements we have made and look to what we still need to do in the future.

Tobacco has caused a global public health crisis. Use of tobacco is the second most common cause of death globally, and accounts for 1 in 10 adult deaths worldwide. Half of all tobacco users will be killed by it, and of course the manufacturers, the tobacco industry know this. Unlike many other challenges we face in public health, every single death from tobacco is preventable.

If we're serious about preventing tobacco related diseases then we need to see that reflected in European legislation. Soon MEPs will have a chance to do that, when we start to revise the Tobacco Products Directive at the end of this year. This will be our chance to make sure that we implement the measures that are most effective at preventing people from taking up smoking, and encouraging smokers to give up, such as standardised packaging and large mandatory pictorial warnings on packs. It's also a chance to stop the use of additives which make tobacco 'smoother', reduce the dryness of cigarettes or mask unpleasant smells. It is precisely these additives which can increase the addiction and appeal of smoking.

Of course we will face heavy lobbying from the tobacco industry and other interested parties when we revise this legislation. However, if we get this legislation right it won't just be the health of individuals that benefits. We will also see reductions in public healthcare spending, as the massive strain caused by preventable respiratory diseases, cancers and cardiovascular disorders lessens. And the economy as a whole could benefit as consumers who would have spent extra cash on cigarettes start buying products from more labour intensive sectors. Tobacco related illnesses are costing the EU over 100 billion Euros a year.

In order to fight cancer we need to do more research into treatments and cures, which is why supporting the work of Cancer Research UK is so important. However, to really be effective in tackling this terrible disease we must also focus on preventing cancer in the first place, and it's time we took some real action to fight the huge numbers of preventable cancers caused by smoking.

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