Europe debates tobacco controls
European health ministers are tackling the issue of teenage smoking at a two-day meeting in Poland.
They hope to reach a pan-European agreement on how to combat tobacco consumption ahead of a World Health Organisation (WHO) meeting in Geneva in March.
"If European countries, at least, can find a consensus on the essentials that would certainly ease the work in Geneva," said Thomas Zeltner, director of the federal health office, who is leading the Swiss delegation to Warsaw.
However, Zeltner warned that there were major cultural differences between eastern and western European countries on a range of issues including the social acceptance of tobacco consumption, government intervention, advertising and sponsorship.
"It will be interesting to see if we can overcome these differences and combat tobacco consumption on a European level," he told swissinfo.
Switzerland and neighbouring countries like France and Germany are concerned about the rise in smoking among young people particularly in the last ten years.
In Switzerland, up to 30 per cent of 15-year-old boys and almost as many girls of the same age smoke regularly.
"It is a phenomenon we find in most western European countries and none of us has really found a solution to combat it," said Zeltner. "Let's work together to combat this smoking at a very young age and let's learn from each other."
"We need a combination of measures including higher prices for cigarettes, less advertising and less access to cigarettes everywhere. In Switzerland, cigarettes are easier to get than bread. You can find them 24 hours a day. Finally, of course, there are education and prevention programmes in schools and families, which help."
Delegates in Warsaw representing about 50 countries hope that by agreeing on a European action plan, it will be easier to find common ground on the WHO's global treaty to curb smoking - the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
The WHO has a 2003 deadline for finalising the convention among its 190 member states.
by Vincent Landon
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