Addressing a Lung Cancer in Women Seminar at Stormont Martina Anderson MEP told the gathering:
In Europe lung cancer causes 20% of all cancer-related deaths, the highest of any cancer and in Ireland lung cancerrates amongst women has overtaken that of breast cancer.
Whilst there is, rightly, a high degree of awareness of breast cancer amongst women the risks of lung cancer areunfortunately lagging behind.
The gender gap in smoking rates is one of the few gender gaps I do not want to see narrowed but unfortunately,that is exactly what is happening – due to a decrease in male and an alarming increase in female smokers in many countries.
Whilst mortality rates from all cancers have declined in the south of Ireland, lung cancer mortality rates in females have continued to increase.
Indeed, both incidence and mortality rates from lung cancer for women in the South are 55% and 34% higher respectively than the EU average, placing 4th for incidence rates for women and lung cancer and 6th for mortality rates for the disease.
On the other hand, incidence and mortality rates from lung cancer for men were, in fact, 17% and 19% lower respectively than the EU average.
In Europe, I have been focusing on reducing the attractiveness of smoking for young people and children, boys and girls alike.
Given that smoking is the leading cause of death and preventable diseases such as lung cancer in Europe it is absolutely essential that there are robust regulations put in place to counter.
The tobacco industry has a long history of marketing their products to women – making cigarettes appear to offer glamour and sophistication to their female consumers.
Infamous advertising during the 20th century by the tobacco multinational, Philip Morris, for their Virginia Slims range directly focused on women with aspirational slogans such as ‘You’ve come a long way, baby’
Almost 50 years on the tobacco industry is no closer to relinquishing the ‘gold mine’ as a former president of American Tobacco put it, which the female market represents.
Whilst advertising of tobacco products has been banned in print, TV and radio, the tobacco companies have become ever more inventive in making their products attractive to women, and young women in particular.
In Brussels, since I became an MEP, working to curb the influence of the tobacco industry has been my key priority.
I was appointed as one of seven rapporteurs in the European Parliament assigned to closely follow and amend the Tobacco Products Directive, a major piece of tobacco control legislation and the first of its kind in over a decade.
From its inception, this piece of legislation has been mired in controversy.
Not because of anything radical proposed in the text – (don’t believe what the industry says, there’s nothing in there about banning smoking outright) – but because the parliament has been up to its neck in tobacco lobbying.
In spite of the incredible lobbying effort made by the tobacco companies, and after years of work, this legislation was finally passed by the whole parliament in February of this year.
Included within it are measures which seek to reduce the ability of the industry to attract young people, and young women in particular, to smoking.
- Combined picture and health warnings on both the front and back of the surface packet. Although the final vote passed 65% combined health warnings when I would have liked it to remain at the level of the Commission’s proposal 75% or even higher,
this is much better than the measly 50% of the packet some of the right wingers wanted in the parliament.
- Banning of characterising flavourings. Call me naive but I was truly shocked to discover the range of flavours available on the market, clearly aimed at attracting children.
Bubblegum, chocolate, strawberry, mint, pineapple, the list is endless.
- Unfortunately, slim cigarettes, which tend to be mainly marketed towards women, will remain on the market.
- Also 10 packs and 20g have been removed from the market – kiddy packs bought out of children pocket money
Nevertheless, the packaging the slims came in, which often resembled lipstick or perfume packets will now be banned.
Labeling restrictions and health warnings help combat the alluring; seductive images conjured up by the tobacco industry to expand their market by encouraging women and young girls to smoke.
We are still paying centuries later for the development of the tobacco trade, a trade which still has remarkable hold today owing to the massive profits accrued and the addictive yet deadly effects on the smoker.
I have consistently urged my fellow colleagues in Brussels to resist the false arguments of the tobacco industry and wake up and listen to the statistics.
A I hope plain packaging which would remove all the attractive colours and branding from tobacco packets will be implemented as soon as possible in both north and south of Ireland.
A sobering thought! Globally, every six seconds someone will die from tobacco-related diseases.
Since I started speaking a few minutes ago that amounts to 80 killed from this tobacco epidemic.
We must now remain vigilant in enforcing regulation such as the Tobacco Products Directive but also go further in efforts to curb the influence of the industry on our young women.