'One hundred million years of UK life' to be lost to smoking

In collaboration with the Press Association

A stark warning about the dangers of tobacco has been issued today by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), fifty years after its first report on smoking.

At a conference to mark the anniversary of the publication of Smoking and Health, the RCP has called for cigarettes to be made even more expensive and for no-smoking zones to be extended to parks and other public areas.

Despite a substantial fall in the number of people smoking in the UK, more than 20 per cent of the population still smokes.

Half of these people will die from smoking unless they give up.

This, the RCP says, will result in one hundred million years of life lost due to smoking tobacco.

Since Smoking and Health was first published in 1962, more than six million people have died as a result of smoking.

According to the RCP, since then there have been many changes in society that have led to a reduction in smoking rates.

This drop has prevented 360,000 deaths. But they said that more could be done.

Jean King, Cancer Research UK's director of tobacco control, said that if the original warnings and proposals in the RCP report had been heeded and fully implemented, "then we could have avoided hundreds of thousands of lives being blighted by tobacco over the past 50 years".

Cigarettes are 50 per cent more affordable now than they were in the mid-60s, despite being heavily taxed. And discounts, small pack sizes and smuggled and counterfeit cigarette supplies make them even cheaper.

As well as removing cigarettes and tobacco brand imagery from films and TV programmes watched by children and young people, the RCP wants plain packaging for cigarettes to be introduced to remove brand associations, which they say is particularly strong with young people.

The RCP has also called for new mass media campaigns to reach TV audiences at peak times. These should be backed up with national, local and social media advertising to encourage more people to give up smoking, or not start in the first place.

King said Cancer Research UK supported such approaches to help bring down the toll of tobacco: "The RCP report of 1962 marked a watershed, linking smoking and lung cancer and also offering policy solutions.

"The recommendations for tackling tobacco are ones we still advocate, including high taxes, mass media education campaigns, preventing advertising and youth access, and helping smokers to quit. The report led to the medical profession taking smoking very seriously - with many doctors leading by example and quitting smoking themselves."

Professor John Britton, chair of the RCP tobacco advisory group, pointed out that smoking is still the biggest avoidable killer in the UK.

"Smokers smoke because of an addiction to nicotine that is usually established before adulthood. There is so much more that can and should be done to prevent the death, disease and human misery that smoking causes," he said.

"Our government needs to act at the highest level to tackle smoking head on, and eradicate it from our society and particularly our children's futures."

Jean King added that putting cigarettes in plain packets will help protect children from tobacco: "The tobacco industry still wants to protect its profits - profits that are built on people becoming addicted to tobacco.

"One of the key measures that must be brought in is that children must be protected from the glamorous marketing that the tobacco companies use on packs today - this can only be done effectively through the introduction plain packaging."

Copyright Press Association 2012