Speeches

Speech by Minister Tom Moffatt TD, on the occasion of the launch of the Europe Against Cancer Campaign

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen.

I am delighted to be here today to launch the Europe against Cancer Campaign. This Campaign is part of the overall Europe against Cancer programme which has been in existence since 1987.

Cancer, as many of you may be aware, is the second largest cause of death in Europe and in recognition of this significant fact, the European Commission developed the European Code against Cancer, which highlights 10 key initiatives to combat cancer.

The theme of this year´s campaign Tobacco Free – It’s a Beautiful Thing, adheres to the first of the European Code´s initiatives which urges the individual not to smoke.

Each year, a different theme is adopted for the campaign. Although the theme changes from year to year, the central message remains the same; many cancers are preventable and we must continue in our efforts to make people aware of the factors which can result in cancer prevention.

More and more it is recognised and documented that a healthy lifestyle is very significant in improving health and preventing disease. Not smoking and if you do smoke, stopping smoking is one of the main factors which contributes to disease prevention.

As all of you here today know, smoking causes major illnesses such as cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Seven thousand deaths each year are attributable to smoking in Ireland. Scientific evidence shows that smoking is the single most preventable cause of disease and the simple fact that these illnesses are preventable makes the consequential loss of health and life even more horrific.

On average, smokers who begin smoking in adolescence and continue to smoke regularly have a 50% chance of dying from tobacco-related illnesses. Half of these will die in middle age, losing around 22 years of normal life expectancy.

The National Health and Lifestyle Survey (SLAN Report) shows that rates among young women in Ireland are now comparable with men. The survey showed that almost 40% of 18-34 year old women now smoke.

It is therefore appropriate that this year´s campaign focuses on Women and Tobacco and specifically targets women in the 20-35 year age group. Smoking causes 90% of lung cancers in women and increases the risk of getting many other cancers.

These figures are hard to understand when it is clear that we live in an increasingly image conscious society and are probably best explained by the fact that 80% of all smokers become addicted between 14 and 16 years of age. At that age of course we all felt immortal and could not relate to the thought of being 40 or 50 years old and certainly not to being ill.

The aims of this campaign are to motivate women who smoke to quit and to increase awareness around the effects of smoking on one’s appearance.

While the campaign materials focus on the adverse effect smoking can have on one´s physical appearance, and therefore appeals to one’s vanity, the leaflet also focuses on the negative impact smoking has on the body functions and so should appeal to one’s reason. The material includes the quitline number where trained smoking cessation counsellors can be reached to provide advice and support on how to stop smoking and I would urge everyone who smokes to avail of this service.

The Europe Against Cancer campaign material will be distributed to all Health Boards and will be used by health professionals and health promotion officers, and through universities, gyms/health clubs and pharmacies. Materials will also be available from the Irish Cancer Society.

Health Promotion Unit

This campaign builds on and complements much of the work which the Health Promotion Unit of the Department of Health and Children are currently involved in. In fact smoking has been the one of the largest one-dimensional topics focussed on by the Health Promotion Unit, again primarily because of its proven links to cancer and heart disease.

The current anti-smoking Campaign Break the Habit for Good was developed in partnership with the Department of Health and Children, the Irish Cancer Society and the regional health boards. This campaign emphasises the positive effect that quitting smoking can have on the individual and smokers are encouraged to contact the quitline for the stop smoking advice kit.

An additional element of this Campaign NICO was developed last year to target the growing number of female teenagers who continue to take up smoking. The message of this element is that smokers are less attractive upon closer examination and it uses a range of anti-cosmetics presented by a character called NICO who highlights the unappealing aspects of smoking e.g. yellowed teeth and wrinkled skin. The NICO element of the campaign uses TV, Radio and outdoor advertising to highlight this message.

Not only are many cancers attributable to smoking but so also are many cardiovascular diseases. The Cardiovascular Strategy, Building Healthier Hearts published by the Department of Health and Children in July 1999 identified smoking as one of the key lifestyle factors associated with heart disease. That is why many of the recommendations contained in the strategy are directly related to smoking and the report places considerable emphasis on measures to reduce tobacco consumption with a view to reducing the incidence of heart disease.

Conclusion

I would like to conclude by acknowledging the commitment of the European Commission in the fight against cancer generally and in particular its involvement in the Europe against Cancer Campaign. I would also like to thank the Health Boards for their co-operation on this project and the Irish Cancer Society who work closely with the Health Promotion Unit on many cancer initiatives and particularly for the work they have put into this campaign.