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No smoke without fire: Cigarettes will cost one hundred million lives in UK unless current smokers quit

  • Royal College supports plain packaging for cigarettes on 50th anniversary of first smoking and health report
  • Cigarettes are 50% MORE affordable now than in 1965, they say

By Rob King

Last updated at 9:53 AM on 6th March 2012

One hundred million years of life will be lost in the UK unless smokers give up their habit, experts are warning.

On the 50th anniversary of its first report on smoking and health, the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) says more than a fifth of the population still smokes.

With smokers losing an average of 10 years of life each, a hundred million years of life will be lost, it says.

The body believes the cost of tobacco should be raised, claiming that cigarettes are 50 per cent more affordable now than they were in 1965, despite being heavily taxed.

But calls for more legislation have been criticised by a smokers’ group, who say smokers are ‘treated like lepers and vilified’ for their habit.

Audrey Hepburn (right) lights up in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, watched by George Peppard (left) and Martin Balsam (centre). The Royal College of Physicians wants ‘unnecessary’ brand images for tobacco removed from films and TV programmes

Half of people who smoke are known to die from their habit.

The RCP published its first report on the issue in 1962 and has updated its findings for a one-day conference today.

More than six million people have died as a result of smoking since 1962 but at least 360,000 deaths have also been prevented owing to there being fewer smokers overall.

The RCP will today discuss ways to cut the number of smokers further, such as making cigarettes more expensive.

Real prices are undercut by discounting, small pack sizes and illegal supplies, it says.

The RCP wants ‘unnecessary’ brand images for tobacco removed from films and TV programmes watched by children and young people, and supports a move towards plain packaging for tobacco.


Furthermore, it wants the smoking ban extended to parks and other public areas, while saying children should be legally protected from smoke in cars and homes, and there should be mass media campaigns on the dangers of smoking.

Nine out of 10 smokers do not use the NHS to help them quit so the RCP wants to reach those people with better services.

Chair of the RCP tobacco advisory group, Professor John Britton, said: ‘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.

‘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.’

RCP president Sir Richard Thompson said: ‘This important conference marks another milestone in the RCP’s efforts to reduce unnecessary deaths and disease from smoking.

‘I hope that in another 50 years smoking, like slavery, will have passed into history.’

On the day the report was published Health Secretary Andrew Lansley told ITV Daybreak that there needed to be continued pressure to reduce the number of smokers.

Andrew Lansley told ITV Daybreak that there needed to be continued pressure to reduce the number of smokers.

Andrew Lansley said there needed to be continued pressure to reduce the number of smokers

‘There are still about eight million people in this country who smoke, it is still the largest avoidable cause of death,’ he said.

‘Fifty years after the smoking and health report, I will be joining the RCP today again and we will be making clear that we need to continue the pressure to reduce the number of smokers.

‘It is actually often about ensuring that we help those who want to give up smoking.’


A campaign showing the damaging effects of invisible second-hand smoke will be among a raft of measures introduced by the Government to cut the number of deaths.

More than 80 per cent of smoke cannot be seen but the campaign, to begin later this month, will feature TV, radio and newspaper adverts showing the fumes and how children can be exposed to them.

In a speech at the Royal College of Physicians, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley will say today that the Government will not stop its battle to cut the number of smokers.

Supermarkets will be forced to remove tobacco displays on April 6 and all other shops will have to end them in April 2015.

The Government will begin a consultation on whether to ban logos and introduce plain packaging for tobacco in the spring.

Mr Lansley said: ‘There are no two ways about it – smoking kills. And our aim is simple – we must reduce rates of smoking.

‘I remember when it was acceptable to smoke anywhere, at work, on trains and in planes.

‘It’s easy to forget that wasn’t too long ago, and how far we have come. But we must do much more.

‘More than eight million people continue to smoke despite stark data that shows it kills half of smokers and around 90% of lung cancer deaths in the UK are caused by smoking.’

Smoking on the London Underground was banned in 1984, tobacco advertising was prohibited in 2002 and smoking in pubs ended in 2007.

More than 80,000 people die from smoking diseases every year.

He added: ‘We will be conducting a campaign to support people realising that second-hand smoke is not only something we need to get rid of in public places but it is something we need not to expose other people to in our own homes and cars as well.

‘I am not proposing legislation to go into people’s homes and cars and control what they do.

‘But I do hope that people will respond to that campaign because actually we are getting a very good response to our stop smoking services.

‘We have got the best stop smoking services locally in the world.’

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health (Ash), said: ‘There has been a seismic shift in attitudes to smoking since the early 1960s when the majority of adults smoked.

‘However, one in five Britons still smokes and around 200,000 children start smoking every year.

‘Although a great deal has been achieved, more still needs to be done, particularly to stop children getting hooked.

‘Putting tobacco products out of sight in shops will help but we also need to stop the marketing of tobacco via the packs.

‘Plain packaging of tobacco products is the logical next step to put an end to tobacco marketing and we look forward to the forthcoming Government consultation on this issue.’

Simon Clark, director of the smokers’ group Forest, said: ‘The authors of the first report on smoking and health were right to draw attention to the risks associated with smoking.

‘Regrettably, since 1962 education has been replaced by coercion and smokers are now treated like lepers and vilified for their habit.

‘Intolerance and scaremongering have replaced legitimate consumer information and common sense has given way to illiberal legislation designed to force people to give up a legal product.

‘Adults have a right to make informed choices about smoking, eating and drinking.

‘The 50th anniversary of the RCP report is an opportunity to remind politicians of their responsibilities in a liberal democratic society.’

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