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Thursday 15 July saw the first discussion of the Special Committee on Beating Cancer (BECA) draft report, "Strengthening Europe in the fight against cancer towards a comprehensive and coordinated strategy," presented by BECA Rapporteur Véronique Trillet-Lenoir (Renew). The report is the result of months of work involving high-level meetings, public hearings, and exchanges of views with experts. The report provides an overview of areas where the EU can complement and strengthen measures in Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, with a focus on the key areas of prevention, screening and early diagnosis, high quality treatment, and quality of life of cancer patients and survivors.

 

The presentation and discussion marked the start of the assessment phase of the draft report. The work of the Committee will commence after the summer recess (see link to European Parliament calendar), and this will include the tabling of amendments, a first and second consideration of amendments, and a vote in Committee. It’s extremely important to note that MEPs from outside the BECA Committee can table amendments to the draft report, as long as they are co-signed by a member of BECA, deadline for tabling amendments is 14 September at 2pm CET.  

  BECA timeline

A short video played before Ms Trillet-Lenoir’s presentation relayed a very important message: “Let’s focus on prevention and screening. Let’s involve patients AND citizens in what must become our Great European Cause, all of us together, we can beat cancer.” We hope that the views of citizens will be considered, especially in the area of prevention. ETHRA and partners made our views clear in the letter we sent to BECA members in advance of their meeting, tobacco harm reduction has an important role to play in beating cancer and the views of experienced consumers must form part of any discussion. Our letter is here - The European Parliament’s role in Europe's Beating Cancer Plan.

Preventative measures form an integral part in the fight to beat cancer. More than 40% of all cancers are preventable, with smoking being the main risk factor for cancer death in Europe, accounting for 700,000 deaths per year. In addressing the burden on health from smoking Ms Trillet-Lenoir said that they will propose “a strong goal with regards to tobacco – a tobacco free generation by 2040”. As we have pointed out time and again, it is the inhalation of toxic products of combustion that is the problem, not tobacco use per se. Switching from combustible to non-combustible sources of nicotine will convey significant health gains, this critical distinction between smoked products and smoke-free products (vapour products, nicotine pouches, snus, heated tobacco) must be made.

German MEP Peter Liese (EPP, Shadow Rapporteur), who has been a vocal supporter of tobacco harm reduction, stressed that the EU can do more to save lives.  According to MEP Liese a harm reduction approach that is grounded in science will best serve the goal of beating cancer. He emphatically stated: “Some people say that e-cigarettes are as dangerous as smoking, but that is scientifically not true. When heavy smokers switch to vaping, we can save lives, harm reduction is a tool to save lives and we shouldn’t make it too complicated for people [to switch].” MEP Liese indicated that the EPP will fully support a lot of measures in the draft report, but they will have additional ideas where they will table amendments.

Italian MEP Pietro Fiocchi (ECR, Shadow Rapporteur), another outspoken advocate for the adoption of tobacco harm reduction strategies, praised the work done by Ms Trillet-Lenoir and emphasised the importance of the document. However, he said that a few points required fine tuning. One of those points is the need to differentiate between combustible and non-combustible products. Croatian MEP Tomislav Sokol (EPP) echoed this opinion, stating that the report required more balance in relation to harm reduction.

Other contributions of significance came from Nicolás González Casares (S&D, Shadow Rapporteur) and Alessandra Moretti (S&D) who suggested that the TPD should be changed in order to capture new consumer products. The really interesting part of Ms Moretti’s contribution came when she discussed alcohol, where she advocated a rational rather than ideological approach.

In what was a surprising but very welcome response to MEP contributions, Ms Trillet-Lenoir acknowledged the points raised by MEP Liese in support of tobacco harm reduction and welcomed his suggestions. She also noted MEP Fiocchi’s position on the need to utilise the harm reduction potential of low-risk alternatives to smoking. Although far from an endorsement of THR by the Rapporteur, her willingness to listen and engage with those that have a different viewpoint is a huge step in the right direction.

The next BECA meeting will take place on 27 September. This will be an interparliamentary Committee meeting where parliamentarians from national parliaments, the European Parliament, and Stella Kyriakides, EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, will discuss Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan. During the European Parliament’s summer recess, and before this meeting, consumers and advocates must use this time to meaningfully engage with MEPs and let them know that tobacco harm reduction strategies can make a substantial contribution to beating cancer, and that our voices must be heard.

 

BECA Committee general page:
https://www.europarl.europa.eu/committees/en/beca/about

BECA Draft report:
https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/BECA-PR-693752_EN.pdf

BECA Bureau and Coordinators:
https://www.europarl.europa.eu/cmsdata/213033/BECA_bureau_coordinators_rapporteur_shadows.pdf

BECA members list:
https://www.europarl.europa.eu/committees/en/beca/home/members

ETHRA letter to BECA members:
https://ethra.co/news/84-the-european-parliament-s-role-in-europe-s-beating-cancer-plan

Modified European Parliament Calendar 2021:
https://www.europarl.europa.eu/cmsdata/217225/Modified%20EP%20Calendar%202021.pdf

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