February 4th is World Cancer Day. Cancer is the second largest cause of death worldwide, and smoking is the leading cause, directly responsible for 30% of cancer deaths. Cancer takes the lives of about ten million people annually (600,000+ in the U.S.) and costs the global economy about 1.5% of total GDP. Much of these costs, in lives and dollars, are borne by low and middle-income countries. As we continue to make strides in treating and preventing communicable diseases, cancer’s proportional impact on health will grow.
Any plan to reduce the prevalence and impact of cancer will fail if it does not address smoking. There’s a growing realization of this. In the U.S., Healthy People 2030 includes aggressive moves to reduce cancer, including drastic reduction in smoking prevalence. Originally, the target was less than 5% by 2030, but unfortunately the goal was changed in 2022 to 6.1%. This might be because there is no new federal plan in place to accelerate a reduction in smoking, with the possible exception of reducing nicotine in cigarettes to non-addictive levels.
There’s a bit more concrete action in Europe, where both the European Union and some individual countries have set ambitious plans to drastically reduce cancer by 2040. The EU plan mentions tobacco 67 times and recognizes the enormous contribution of smoking to the incidence of cancer. They have set up a task force to discuss policies to achieve an 80% reduction in tobacco use by 2040 (ASH Executive Director Laurent Huber serves on the task force). French President Macron has also called for a “tobacco-free generation” as a prerequisite to attack cancer.
To support and press EU efforts, a group of European civil society organizations have launched a Citizens’ Petition to force the European Parliament to consider a true Tobacco-Free Generation law, banning the sale of tobacco products to anyone born after 2009. European citizens have until January 2024 to sign. If a million people from at least seven EU countries sign, Parliament must debate the issue. Please let your EU friends and networks know!