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#EuropeanParliament lit up in gold to support children fighting cancer

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Parliament's building in Brussels is lit up in gold to raise awareness about childhood cancer 

Parliament has joined the global Gold September campaign to raise awareness about childhood cancer by lighting up its Brussels building in gold on 1-6 September. Every year, more than 35,000  children are diagnosed with cancer in Europe. Although the average survival rate at five years is 80%, there are significant differences between European countries due to unequal access to the best care and expertise.

Leukaemia appears to be the most frequent and most lethal cancer in children, accounting for more than 30% of new cases and deaths per year.

Fighting cancer is a priority for the EU. In June, the European Parliament set up a special committee to look at how the EU can take concrete measures to help beat cancer.

The special committee on beating cancer will evaluate:
  • The possibility of improving quality of life for patients and families;
  • scientific knowledge on prevention and specific action on tobacco, obesity, alcohol, pollution etc;
  • how to support research into prevention, diagnosis and treatment of childhood and rare cancers, where an EU approach offers the best chance of success;
  • early detection and screening programmes;
  • how to support non-profit clinical trials, and;
  • possible EU action to facilitate the transparency of treatment prices to improve affordability and access.

Polish EPP member Ewa Kopacz, who is the Parliament coordinator on children's rights, said: "While we should strive for the prevention of paediatric cancer, we must also work to ensure that all children facing a cancer diagnosis have equal access to treatment and proper care throughout their treatment and recovery."

The Parliament Vice-President, who is a former paediatrician and health minister, added: "By lightning the European Parliament in gold we send a strong signal of solidarity and support to children and adolescents fighting cancer, their families, childhood cancer survivors and professionals serving them. "

Cancer

Lifestyle choices and beating cancer

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On 21 October, the Kangaroo Group organized an online debate on Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides’ flagship initiative. The webinar, chaired by Michael Gahler MEP, President of the Kangaroo Group, involved a presentation by Professor David Nutt of Imperial College London and featured Deirdre Clune, MEP and Tomislav Sokol, MEP.

The event discussed the potential of harm reduction to help EU citizens make healthier lifestyle choices and how that could help prevent cancer.

The following is a summary of the webinar, from Professor Nutt’s presentation, to the contributions by MEPs Clune and Sokol and the Q&A session.

Panel

  • Professor David Nutt, Imperial College London
  • Deirdre Clune, EPP MEP
  • Tomislav Sokol, EPP MEP
  • Michael Gahler, EPP MEP

Introduction

  • Michael Gahler introduced the event, saying that 40% of cancers in Europe can be prevented and incentivising European citizens to choose healthier options can go some way towards helping prevent these cancers, such as the ones caused by alcohol and tobacco.

Professor David Nutt

  • Professor Nutt presented to the webinar on the principles of harm reduction, particularly in relation to alcohol and tobacco.
  • He outlined that preventative measures such as increasing taxation, educating on harms, increasing the age for use of alcohol and tobacco, restricting the locations where they can be bought and the times they can be purchased can all help to reduce the harm caused by alcohol and tobacco.
  • He also said that enabling access to safer alternatives such as snus and e-cigarettes for smokers as approaches that can reduce smoking-induced cancers.
  • On tobacco, Nutt said: “What causes cancer in smokers, is not the nicotine, but the tar.” He presented an analysis of the level of harms associated with different ways of delivering nicotine showing how very different they were, with cigarettes the most harmful compared with snus and vaping.
  • Nutt pointed to Sweden’s experience with snus as an example of how less harmful alternatives to smoking can reduce smoking-induced cancers, saying: “Snus really does reduce cancer.”
  • Nutt pointed out that cigarette use in Norway has fallen while consumption of snus has risen, showing that Norwegians are giving up smoking for snus in increasing numbers.
  • Nutt also pointed out that: “e-cigarettes are extraordinarily low in carcinogens.” He said that “we can say, almost certainly, that e-cigarettes will reduce mouth and lung cancers compared with smoking.”
  • Nutt showed evidence from the USA that tobacco smoking in young people has fallen despite the fact that more are vaping. This, he said, confirms that there is no “gateway effect” from vaping to smoking.
  • Nutt said that in heavy drinkers by reducing your alcohol intake by 25 grams a day could be reducing your risk of oral cavity cancer by a third.
  • Nutt pointed out that alcohol taxation increases are predicted to reduce the prevalence of alcohol induced cancers.

Deirdre Clune, MEP

  • Clune stated that the European Parliament’s Special Committee on Beating Cancer (BECA) recognises that “people have habits, their way of life and their lifestyle,” and that the committee will focus on all areas of cancer, across prevention, early diagnoses, treatment and care
  • She stressed that a coordinated approach is needed, with BECA focusing on prevention as a key area as 40% of cancers are preventable.
  • Clune pointed out the example of snus in Sweden as something that BECA could “hold on to.” She said that smokers most often start smoking when they’re young, and it is very rare for smokers to take it up later in life.
  • Clune said that people need to understand that smoking is an addiction and that safer alternatives can be a way forward. She pointed out that most people associate smoking just with lung cancer, while it in fact causes many others.
  • She pointed out a similar fact with alcohol and liver cancer. She recognised that restricting the sale of alcohol can be effective and that the sale of alcohol for young people should be looked at.
  • Clune pointed to restrictions on alcohol advertising and particularly restrictions on advertising on television and in sports as having changed changed lifestyle behaviours.
  • She said she hopes BECA’s report will be ambitious and recommend action on alcohol and tobacco. She recognises that BECA has a lot to do, and input from experts like Nutt will help them in their work. She stressed that prevention is certainly an area where BECA hope to play a role.

Tomislav Sokol, MEP

  • Said Nutt’s presentation was interesting, in terms of the evidence presented. Sokol said that decisions need to be made strictly on the available evidence and that something that is lacking. He pointed out that conversations with academics and researchers is extremely important to the Parliament.
  • Sokol referenced the previous court ruling in Europe on snus. He said that often, the European courts rely on impact assessments made by the Commission, as the courts themselves are not equipped in these areas to decide by themselves.
  • Sokol stressed the importance of harmonised rules across the EU and said evidence must be fed into the Commission.
  • Sokol pointed out that people can often decide for themselves on healthy lifestyle choices, but they need to get the most information possible to do so, and said this is one area where the EU can play an important role.
  • He said he hopes that BECA’s report that will be sent to the Commission will be ambitious and evidence based.

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Is the EU overlooking risks from mineral wool in its fight against cancer?

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The EU’s Beating Cancer Plan has been heralded as the flagship health initiative and ‘masterplan’ of the European Commission in the fight against cancer, writes Martin Banks.  

As the first initiative under this Plan, the Commission has now presented a legislative proposal on occupational safety and health (OSH). The proposed fourth revision of the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive (CMD) sets new or revised binding occupational exposure limit values for three substances that can cause cancer.

The Commission noted that each year, about 120,000 work-related cancer cases occur because of exposure to carcinogens in the EU, leading to approximately 80,000 fatalities annually, making cancer the cause of half of the deaths linked to work. Estimates showed that more than 1.1 million workers in a wide range of sectors would benefit from improved protection by the proposed changes. With this revision, new or updated limits will have been put on 27 carcinogens since 2014.

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) criticized the EU claiming it has taken no action to limit exposure to 20 more cancer-causing substances, while existing exposure limits for common workplace carcinogens like crystalline silica, diesel emissions and asbestos do not offer sufficient protection and urgently need to be updated. The ETUC has said that its objective is to have binding occupational exposure limits under the CMD for at least 50 priority carcinogens by 2024. It has called for a new coherent and transparent system of setting EU exposure limits based on those of Germany and the Netherlands, noting that up to 12% of all cancer cases are work-related.

However, it welcomed the proposal as a step in the right direction, as it would protect workers particularly in the manufacturing and construction industries. Construction workers will likely be exposed to more insulation products and waste in the coming years, as the European Commission recently stated that the renovation rate in the EU member states must double to reach the 2030 climate target.  Today the Commission explained how it wants to achieve this in its Renovation Wave communication.

This begs the question whether workers in the construction sector, from manufacturing to renovation sites and waste management, need additional protection when dealing with mineral wool, a commonly used insulation material. It is manufactured with the carcinogen formaldehyde as binder, which has been on the trade union’s priority list, and was regulated under the CMD in 2019. The EU Regulation on Classification, Labelling and Packaging of substances classifies mineral wool itself in general as suspected carcinogen. However, certain exemptions apply, and the CMD does not currently protect workers from mineral wool.

2009 academic article noted that mineral wool waste shares the properties of the original material. This included “the carcinogenic potential of old mineral wools, secondary components such as binder and lubricant contents”. Earlier this year, Austrian state television ORF called mineral wool waste “as carcinogenic as asbestos”, highlighting problems with its safe management. Experts in the EU institutions are aware of these concerns.

Speaking after an event in the European Parliament, Aurel Laurenţiu Plosceanu from the European Economic and Social Committee, a consultative body of the EU, and the Rapporteur on ‘Working with Hazardous Substances’ said last year: “More needs to be done to make more people aware of the potential dangers of mineral wool. There is a real risk associated with this material and, like asbestos, people need to be made aware of the possible risks.” He called for a range of measures, including an awareness raising campaign, better labelling, more investment in research and safer equipment for people in the construction industry who work with the material. He added: “The particular problem with this material is that any health problems may not actually appear in someone until long after their exposure to it. With something like lung cancer, which, as with asbestos, is a possible health risk associated with this, unfortunately that could be too late."

As with any other ordinary legislative proposal, the European Parliament and the Council will have the opportunity to amend the proposed revision of the CMD before adopting it. The European Commission is expected to adopt the broader Beating Cancer Plan later this year. It remains to be seen whether the EU institutions will also address the concerns surrounding the use of mineral wool.

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Beating cancer: Better protection of workers against cancer-causing chemicals

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Each year, around 120,000 work-related cancer cases occur as a result of exposure to carcinogens at work in the EU, leading to approximately 80,000 fatalities annually. To improve workers' protection against cancer, the Commission has proposed today to further limit their exposure to cancer-causing chemicals. This fourth revision of the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive sets new or revised limit values for three important substances: acrylonitrile, nickel compounds and benzene. Estimates show that more than 1.1 million workers in a wide range of sectors will benefit from improved protection thanks to the new rules. Today's proposal is the first initiative of the Commission's commitment to fight cancer under the upcoming Europe's Beating Cancer Plan.

Jobs and Social Rights Commissioner Nicolas Schmit said: “A workplace should be a safe place and yet cancer is the cause of half of the deaths linked to work. This update to the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive is one of the first steps in our ambitious plan to beat cancer. It shows that we are determined to act and will not compromise on workers' health. In the backdrop of the major health crisis due to COVID-19, we will redouble our efforts to ensure that workers in Europe are protected. We will look into concrete ways on how to achieve this via the future occupational safety and health strategic framework.”

Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said: “Reducing the suffering caused by cancer is a priority for us, and to do so, prevention is key. Today we are taking an important step to protect our workers from the exposure to hazardous substances in the workplace and start our work under our upcoming Europe's Beating Cancer Plan. With the plan, we will aim to tackle the main risk factors of cancer for everyone, but also to guide patients at every step of their journey and contribute to improving the life of those affected by this disease.”

Three new or revised limit values

The Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive is regularly updated in line with new scientific evidence and technical data. Three previous updates have addressed workers' exposure to 26 chemicals. Today's proposal adds new or revised occupational exposure limits for the following substances:

  • Acrylonitrile (new limit);
  • Nickel compounds (new limit);
  • Benzene (limit revised downwards).

Benefits for workers and companies

Introducing new or revised occupational exposure limits for acrylonitrile, nickel compounds and benzene will have clear benefits for workers. Work-related cases of cancer and other serious illnesses will be prevented, improving health and quality of life.

The proposal will also benefit companies by reducing costs caused by work-related ill health and cancer, such as absences and insurance payments.

Development of the proposal and next steps

This initiative has been developed in close collaboration with scientists, and with representatives of workers, employers, and EU member states. Social partners (trade unions and employers' organizations) were also involved through a two-phase consultation.

The Commission's proposal will now be negotiated by the European Parliament and the Council.

Background

This Commission has committed to step up the fight against cancer and will present, before the end of 2020, Europe's Beating Cancer Plan. The Plan will support Member States to improve the prevention, detection, treatment and management of cancer in the EU while reducing health inequalities between and within Member States.

In its Communication on 'A strong social Europe for just transitions', the Commission has committed to review the occupational health and safety (OSH) strategy to address among others the exposure to dangerous substances, with a view to maintain European's high OSH standards. This is in line with the European Pillar of Social Rights, jointly proclaimed by the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission at the Social Summit for Fair Jobs and Growth on 17 November 2017, which enshrines workers' right to a healthy, safe and well-adapted work environment, including protection from carcinogens.

Further improving the protection of workers from occupational cancer is all the more important since according to EU-OSHA, cancer is the first cause of work-related deaths in the EU: 52% of annual occupational deaths are currently attributed to work-related cancers, compared to 24% to circulatory diseases, 22% to other diseases and 2% for injuries.

This initiative is the fourth revision of the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive. Over the last few years, the Commission proposed three initiatives amending this piece of legislation. These three initiatives were adopted by the European Parliament and the Council in December 2017January 2019 and June 2019, addressing 26 substances.

More information

Commission Proposal for the fourth revision of the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive

Q&A: Beating Cancer: Commission proposes improved protection for workers

Follow Nicolas Schmit on Twitter

Subscribe to the European Commission's free e-mail newsletter on employment, social affairs and inclusion

 

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