In 2016, Belgium scored only 49 points out of a possible 100, landing a failing grade and 17th place. This year the country scored 58 points to take 10th place.
The TCS takes into account a variety of factors: price increases for tobacco products, smoking bans in workplaces and public places, the budget for prevention measures and information for consumers, advertising bans, health messages on packaging, help for stopping smoking, fighting smuggling of cigarettes and controls on lobbying by the tobacco industry – the latter two being taken into consideration this year for the first time.
“We gained four points because we introduced neutral packaging,” said Suzanne Gabriels of the Belgian Foundation against Cancer. “We also advanced by two points for higher taxes on tobacco.”
The TCS report also includes a number of recommendations, including tax increases, smoking in cars where minors are present, plain packaging and displays of tobacco products in shops, and increasing the amount of money spent on prevent to a minimum of €2 per capita per year.
On the last point, Gabriels points out that “the amount that Belgium spends per inhabitant on tobacco prevention is substandard. In 2018 it was 28 cents per person. Our government continues to see prevention as a cost, whereas we regard it as an investment.”
The TCS ratings were led once again by the United Kingdom, although the country lost one point because of reductions in the budget for prevention projects and campaigns.
The Foundation, though welcoming the results, sees room for further improvement.
“We are calling for tobacco prices in this country to follow the example of the Netherlands and France, so that we would soon be at €10 a packet of cigarettes,” Gabriels said.
“Prices have to take a huge leap to influence consumption. Every increase of 10% in price brings a fall in consumption of 4%.”