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Dalli launches European anti-smoking initiative

European Commissioner for Health John Dalli this afternoon launched in Valletta the ExSmokers campaign, an anti-smoking initiative that is targeting  people aged 25 to 34.

Tobacco is the single largest cause of avoidable death in the EU, accounting for around 650 000 premature deaths per year.

"It's the equivalent of a plague wiping out Malta's entire population in eight months," Mr Dalli emphasised, explaining the Commission's focus on smoking.

The campaign, which was originally launched in Brussels around three months ago, comes as the Commission is preparing the ground work for a directive on the subject, which could include an EU-wide ban on smoking in public areas – currently a measure left up to the discretion of member states.

The Commission was keen to point out that any such directive would need the approval of a majority of member states and the European Parliament but was emphatic on the need to combat smoking given the devastating effect it was having on people's health and quality of life.

Unlike the shock effect sought by the graphic images being carried on cigarette packets, the campaign's message is "positive", emphasising the potential and quality of life lost to smoking.

"The emphasis is on what you could achieve and where you could be if you didn't smoke," Mr Dalli said. He argued that this was not a change of mind over the logic of having graphic images on the cigarette packs showing the full extent of smoke's effect on health.

"I would says that it is complementary," he said. "You cannot use the same images or the same message all the time or else people will get used to it, in this case we wanted to emphasise a positive message, especially given the target audience we have in mind."

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