Marking World Cancer Day, UICC calls on governments around the world to prioritise four policy actions to reduce preventable cancers caused by tobacco use and the consumption of alcohol and ultra-processed foods.

Protect people from marketing and selling of carcinogenic products

Nearly half of all deaths due to cancer – 4.45 million out of more than nine million in 2019 – are caused by known modifiable risk factors, with smoking, alcohol consumption and high body mass index (BMI) among the top three. 

Sugary drinks and ultra-processed foods are known drivers of obesity, defined as a BMI above 30 and, like tobacco and alcohol, are potentially addictive. These products are marketed by companies whose corporate interests often outweigh concerns for global health

Given the growing burden of cancer globally and particularly in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) calls upon governments this World Cancer Day to strengthen their resolve and implement policies that protect people from companies marketing and selling their carcinogenic products.

Millions of avoidable cancer deaths are caused by unhealthy products sold by heartless companies who interfere in policy debates and misuse science to secure a favourable commercial environment,” said Cary Adams, CEO of the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC).

As we celebrate World Cancer Day, UICC stands ready to support governments in their efforts to limit people’s exposure to tobacco, alcohol and ultra-processed food products.”

Cary Adams, CEO, Union for International Cancer Control

Four policy solutions to limit availability of unhealthy products

In particular, UICC recommends four policy actions that have proved effective in reducing the availability and consumption of unhealthy products:

  1. Increase taxation
    • Studies in the US show that a 10% increase in the price of cigarettes reduces adult consumption by 3-5%, and youth are up to three times more responsive than adults.
  2. Enforce marketing limitations
    • This includes age restrictions and reduced points of sale. 
    • A government analysis in the UK showed that banning junk food advertising on TV before 9pm would result in £1.9 billion in public health benefits with reductions in obesity-related ill health over children’s lifetimes.
  3. Improve labelling
    • Introduce product warning and information labels.
  4. Run extensive public education campaigns

Australia was one of the first countries to ban tobacco advertising and the first to impose plain packaging for cigarettes,” Prof. Jeff Dunn AO, President of the Union for International Cancer Control.

These policies have led to less brand identification, lower acceptance of smoking, better perception of health risks, reduced uptake among youth and more adults quitting. Similar policies for alcohol and ultra-processed foods, aligned with the particular risks of these products, will help blunt the unscrupulous marketing strategies of some companies who target youth and other vulnerable populations with their unhealthy products.”

Prof. Jeff Dunn AO, President, Union for International Cancer Control

The aggressive marketing of unhealthy products also increases the differences in the number and severity of cancer cases and in cancer-related deaths around the world, both within countries and between high- and lower-income regions. Vulnerable populations are more likely to experience a higher cancer incidence and lower survival rates than others.

Many governments know that their populations are targeted by companies eager to sell unhealthy products but their ambitions to curtail these actions are often met with resistance from industry actors, including legal challenges to effective policy measures and legislation,” said Ulrike Årehed Kågström, President-elect of UICC and Secretary General of the Swedish Cancer Society.

Opposition to a sugar tax by manufacturers of sugary drinks, stealing a page out of Big Tobacco’s playbook, is just one example among many.”

Ulrike Årehed Kågström, President-elect of UICC and Secretary General of the Swedish Cancer Society

Impact of specific alcohol policy best buys, as proposed by UICC

Movendi International maintains a continuously updated resource page tracking scientific and policy developments across the best buy solutions outlined by UICC for cancer prevention: taxation (500+ resources), marketing (700+ resources), and labelling(60+ resources).

Alcohol policy solutions are catalysts for cancer prevention. For example, reducing total alcohol consumption by 10% would lead to a 9% reduction in alcohol-related cancer deaths.

That means ca. 57.000 fewer deaths due to cancer caused by alcohol.

Alcohol policy prevents cancer deaths
Reducing total alcohol consumption by 10% would lead to a 9% reduction in alcohol-related cancer deaths.

Analysis from the United States shows: More ambitious and comprehensive state alcohol policies were associated with lower cancer mortality rates for the six cancer types overall, and among men and women. A 10% increase in the effectiveness of alcohol policies was associated with an 8.5% decrease in rates of combined alcohol-attributable cancers. Improving and levelling up alcohol policy solutions is a promising cancer prevention strategy.

study from the UK confirmed these effects for breast cancer specifically:

Over 20% of women aged 45 to 64 reportedly consume more alcohol than 14 units per week, so any intervention to reduce population level consumption could have a significant influence on breast cancer rates, as well as help to manage the side effects of treatment and improve the overall health of survivors,” according to the researchers of the study.

Regarding the best buy to raise taxation, Movendi International provides a resource page outlining the evidence and benefits of alcohol taxation for cancer prevention.

For example, a recent modeling study showed that doubling current alcohol excise taxes in the WHO European region could avoid almost 6% of new cancer cases and cancer deaths caused by alcohol (180,900 cases and 85,100 deaths) in the region.

The findings are particularly important for Member States of the European Union where excise duties are in many cases very low.

Alcohol tax increase means reduction in cancer cases
Doubling current alcohol excise taxes in the WHO European region could avoid almost 6% of new cancer cases and cancer deaths caused by alcohol (180,900 cases and 85,100 deaths) in the region.

Another example is the policy best buy to ban alcohol advertising, sponsorship, and promotion. For example, scientific analysis has proven that the alcohol industry wants to keep people in the dark about the fact that their products cause cancer. Instead they want to exploit breast cancer awareness to look good and sell more of the products. This is a fundamental conflict of interest. And banning alcohol advertising, sponsorship, and promotion would halt such exploitative and predatory practices.

The third example is the Special Feature on alcohol health warning labeling produced by Movendi International. A wide base of scientific evidence highlights the importance of implementing health warning labels on alcohol products. This policy measure can increase public awareness about health harms caused by alcohol specifically about pregnancy risk, cancer risk and cardiovascular disease risk of alcohol products.

World Cancer Day 2023 is led by the theme “Close the care gap”, recognising inequities in health that exist for many populations. This is the second of a three-year campaign on equity, to raise awareness about the lack of equity in cancer care and prompting action at every level to break down the barriers that exist for many people in accessing services and receiving the care they need.

On World Cancer Day, Movendi International launched a ground-breaking new campaign called “Be Loud  For Change” to empower communities to increase public recogntion about the link between alcohol and cancer and to call for politicians to take actions for cancer prevention through alcohol policy solutions.

Source Website: Union for International Cancer Control