'Alcohol is a frightening issue, but tobacco is by far the number one issue we need to be tackling,' Professor Peter Boyle told CORDIS News at a conference to mark the end of the EU-funded project Health Evolution Monitoring (HEM) - Closing the Gap. According to EU statistics, tobacco is the single largest cause of avoidable death in the European Union, accounting for over half a million deaths each year and over a million deaths in Europe as a whole. It is estimated that 25% of all cancer deaths and 15% of all deaths in the Union could be attributed to smoking. For Professor Boyle, the Director of World Health Organisation's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the EU's legislative efforts under the previous EU Health Commissioner, David Byrne, had a major influence on reducing tobacco consumption in the EU. The so-called 'double blow against Big Tobacco' was successful in the EU-15, but now efforts need to be pursued and enforced in the newer EU Member States, he believes. 'The EU has brought in the tobacco advertising directive and adopted a far-reaching recommendation on the prevention of smoking, both of which have proved tremendously successful in setting the scene in the EU-15 for moving ahead on reducing tobacco consumption, increasing the price of tobacco consumption and now banning smoking in restaurants and pubs and public places,' Professor Boyle said. 'The tremendous effect this has had means we need to continue these activities and we need to enforce them in Central and Eastern European countries,' the he added. Currently in talks with members of the European Commission and MEPs, Professor Boyle and the other members of the research project are already working on the follow-up to their project. This will involve new health research, and monitoring and capacity-building activities in Central and Eastern Europe to bridge the health gap with Western Europe. 'It is completely unacceptable today that as we move towards a single Europe, we have got one half of Europe going at one speed and the other half of Europe going at another,' says Professor Boyle. 'We've identified potential ways in which we can make progress on this issue and we've really got to go for it. And I believe it's up to the EU to actually make the investment. For this is not like trying to cure cancer. These are things we know that we can do. It's just a matter of the EU spending the money in a correct and wise way and we can do it,' he concluded.