Marisol Touraine: I pledge to continue the battle against smoking

Health Minister Marisol Touraine’s editorial in the Huffington Post: “Smoking kills”: everyone is familiar with the phrase. But how many of us still read it, whenever we spot a packet of cigarettes? How many of us see the harsh, “unfiltered” truth about smoking that lies behind the phrase?

Yet it’s quite simple.

Smoking is sure to make you ill. One in two smokers will die from smoking. Smoking is responsible for one in three cases of cancer, and lung cancer – linked to smoking in 90% of cases – kills nine times out of 10. Smoking causes cardiovascular diseases, chronic bronchitis – which develops into respiratory failure – and also forms of gastritis, certain ulcers, diabetes, eczema, psoriasis, lupus and ear, nose and throat infections. Last but not least is periodontitis, gum disease, which causes teeth to fall out. That is what smoking does.

Smoking is hugely destructive. Some 60,000 Europeans die every month from smoking, equivalent to a full stadium one evening at a Euro 2016 match. That is what smoking does.

Yet we continue to smoke. On a massive scale. There are 122 million smokers in Europe. There are 20 million in France. In Britain there are 10 million. Why? Why are so many of us, without being particularly suicidal, so ready to jump off a cliff?

Here again, the answer is simple.

Because smoking is a drug. Because colossal efforts are made to encourage us to smoke, to downplay the risks and fight every restriction. And because it is difficult, given the resources committed, to resist. Even more so, incidentally, because everything is done to conceal the pressures – which are nonetheless huge, intense, constant – which promote smoking.

You, as citizens, must know.

You must know that tobacco companies spend astronomical sums on advertising, marketing and PR to make us believe that smoking is sociable and subversive, that freedom is precisely about being able to smoke, and that certain cigarettes can be “light” for health. You must know that the tobacco companies’ advertising budget is €13 billion a year, i.e. more or less akin to the GDP of Iceland. A company does not invest this kind of money without getting a return on its investment.

You must know that the tobacco companies pay huge sums for studies which minimize the impact of smoking on health, and pay researchers to act as spokesmen.

You must know that the tobacco companies fight tooth and nail against every government anti-cigarette initiative, and that for a health minister, legislating for plain packaging is like going into battle, given how sharply support drops off as the text progresses through Parliament.

So we health ministers have a duty to take action. We must combat our own inertia. We must resist intense lobbying. We must contradict the false claims that smoking fills the state coffers, when in reality its cost to our healthcare systems is greater. We must combat the political correctness that bans prohibitions. We must have the courage to day that a tobacco-free society is possible and that the generation being born today could be the first one never to smoke.

I pledge to continue this battle.

Published on 17/02/2017

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