7 initiatives to protect your health and your environment

1. Tackling tobacco-related health problems

Statistics show that tobacco is the biggest cause of premature death in the EU, causing more or less 700,000 deaths each year. The EU is therefore using a number of policy instruments to address the issue of tobacco consumption:

  • Anti-smoking campaigns, including a mobile app to stop smoking: iCoach – see Facebook page for more details;
  • Advertising restrictions;
  • The establishment of “smoke-free environments” to protect children and progressively ban smoking in public places;
  • High taxes on tobacco products;
  • Fighting against smuggling and illegal tobacco trading; and
  • Regulating tobacco products: a new Tobacco Products directive is about to be formally adopted. It will, among others, ban cigarettes with flavours, require bigger health warnings on cigarette packages and introduce some requirements for e-cigarettes.

2. Reducing health inequalities in the EU

The Commission has identified a number of health inequalities: between Member States, between men and women, between rural and urban regions, between educated and less educated citizens, between ethnic groups, etc. Early inequalities experienced as a child may have bad consequences for the rest of the life, so it is important to address these health inequalities. The Commission has therefore launched a deeper collaboration with Member States, which are primarily responsible for health matters. More concretely, the Commission decided that more data should be collected to better identify where and what kind of problems arise and to facilitate exchange of information. In addition, stakeholders should be involved in the exchange of good practices. Furthermore, vulnerable groups should receive a specifically targeted support, financed among others by EU cohesion and structural funds. The Council also highlighted the necessity to “enhance public health capacities” and linked health equity to sustainable development. These objectives were translated in policies targeted at specific groups (e.g. the Roma population), at certain lifestyles (addressing the consumption of health-damaging products) and in the inclusion of health concerns in other policy areas (e.g. the CAP). The “Europe 2020” strategy also calls for addressing health inequalities.

3. Addressing childhood obesity

Very recently, Member States have agreed to a common plan to address childhood obesity. Indeed, in 2010, nearly a third of children suffered from overweight and this may harm them later in their life. Therefore, the plan focuses on encouraging voluntary initiatives to support a healthy school environment (e.g. healthy food in the canteen) and on protecting children’s health (less advertising, more physical activities, better information for parents).

4. A European Innovation Partnership on active and healthy ageing

The EIP on active and healthy ageing is an innovative project launched in 2011. It aims at bringing together “all relevant actors at EU, national and regional levels across different policy areas to handle with specific societal challenges” (in this case, an ageing population). The share of the 65+ year old population will double over the next 50 years and senior citizens will also increasingly face health issues. Therefore, the EIP has three objectives: improving the health of senior citizens, ensuring the long-term sustainability of health systems and enhancing the competitiveness of the European health industry. The EIP allows interested members of the platform (“the Marketplace”) to share information, debate with other stakeholders, find partners for a specific initiative, promote events and participate in Action Groups.

5. A clean air policy package

Clean air is important for our environment and our health, especially as a growing number of people suffer from respiratory problems. In addition, the cost of air pollution is estimated at €23 billion per year. The new package of measures proposed by the Commission in December 2013 aims at further reducing emissions: it will make life easier for sick people, of course, but also for everyone else! And it will help develop the European green technology industry. The package contains a new “Clean Air Programme for Europe” setting air quality targets until 2030 and developing many support measures to reduce air pollution and support R&D on this issue. A second text is a directive on national emission ceilings to encourage further reductions in emissions of the main pollutants. Thirdly, a new directive was adopted to reduce pollution from medium-sized combustion plants (i.e., mostly energy plants and small industry installations). The gains arising from this package are estimated at over 50,000 premature deaths avoided, tens of thousands of square kilometres protected from pollution and tens of billions of euros saved.

6. Reducing waste and making consumption and production more sustainable

The EU approach to waste management relies on three pillars: prevention (to reduce the amount of waste), recycling and reuse (to reduce waste’s environmental impact) and improving final disposal (monitoring the environmental impact of incineration and landfill, the latter being ideally used only as a last resort). Among the recent initiatives, there is a proposal to reduce the use of plastic bags, and a “European Clean-Up Day” (to take place on 10 May). Other progress made during the past five years are a single directive on industrial emissions, covering “industrial activities with a major pollution potential”, and a directive establishing a legal framework “for the responsible and safe management of spent fuel and radioactive waste” resulting from civilian activities.

7. A new regulation on biocides to better protect your environment and health

This new regulation, adopted in 2012, wants to bring in a number of improvements compared to the former text (a 1998 directive). So, it wants to streamline “the requirements for authorising products”, reduce animal testing through compulsory exchange of data (in exchange of “fair compensation”), and better inform the public. To achieve these goals, a Register for Biocidal Products and an EU authorisation of biocidal products were set up. Moreover, bureaucracy will be reduced and mutual recognition strongly encouraged.

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