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Thursday, 7 March, 2002, 07:53 GMT
Smoking health issues still 'ignored'
Smoking is linked to 120,000 deaths annually
The deaths of five million people in the UK from smoking-related diseases have been partly blamed on decades of government inaction.

On the 40th anniversary of the publication of the first report linking smoking and heart disease, doctors say many of its recommendations have still not been implemented.

Statistics show that more than five million people have died since the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) published its ground-breaking "Smoking and Health" report.

To mark the anniversary, the RCP and the pressure group Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) are calling on the present government to make up for years of previous governments' inaction.

They are starting by asking ministers to support Lord Clement-Jones's Private Members Bill to ban tobacco advertising, sponsorship and promotion.

I am deeply saddened by the lack of progress in tackling our biggest killer

Professor Sir George Alberti, RCP
Restriction on advertising was one of the main recommendations in the 1962 report and both groups say not enough has been done in this area.

It would extend the current EU law against broadcasting adverts to cover all media and sports sponsorship.

The bill is almost identical to one introduced by the government in the last session but which ran out of time and was then controversially left out of the last Queen's Speech.

The two organisations also want to see a far-reaching and committed approach to tobacco policy.

This would cover:-

Policy measures that reduce the motivation to smoke, including:-

  • the use of bold, bleak warnings to communicate risk
  • the elimination of misleading reassurances to smokers, such as "light" branding.

    Policy measures that motivate smokers to quit, including:-

  • spending more on a media-based education campaign
  • more smoke-free environments at work and in public places
  • use of taxation to keep cigarette prices high as an incentive for people to quit
  • inclusion in doctors' contracts of obligations to encourage people to stop smoking
  • the development of a "stop smoking" service in every hospital.

    Professor Sir Richard Doll, the man who originally drew attention to the dangers of smoking, said he was encouraged that many people had given up smoking.

    But he said it was important to keep stressing the importance of kicking the habit. But he said the government had been guilty of sending out mixed messages down the years.

    Three million people are still working in places where they're exposed to passive smoking

    Clive Bates
    He said: "I remember the first time the Medical Research Council advised the government they should accept that cigarette smoking was a cause of lung cancer, the minister for health had a press conference at which he smoked when he made the announcement."

    RCP president Professor Sir George Alberti said the original report was received with "ministerial indifference and inaction - a pattern to be repeated throughout almost all of the next 40 years".

    He said: "I am deeply saddened by the lack of progress in tackling our biggest killer.

    "The current government is more committed to action against smoking than any before, yet it too has faltered and needs to put the public health of the nation first."

    Passive smoking risks

    Ash has released figures saying the 1962 report did have some impact on relegating smoking to an anti-social activity.

    Ash director Clive Bates said: "If people continued to smoke at the same rates we had in 1962 we would have an awful lot more dead.

    "But three million people are still working in places where they're exposed to passive smoking."

    In 1974, 51% of men and 41% of women smoked cigarettes - nearly half the adult population of the UK.

    Today, about 13 million adults smoke - 29% of men and 25% of women.

    Smoking is responsible for about 120,000 deaths every year in the UK.

    It is estimated that several hundred cases of lung cancer and several thousand cases of heart disease in non-smokers in the UK are caused annually by passive smoking - inhaling other people's tobacco smoke.

    The BBC's James Westhead
    "Attitudes have been transformed"
    Professor John Britton, Royal College of Physicians
    "We would like to see an end to smoking"
    See also:

    08 Jan 02 | Northern Ireland
    Campaign to cut cigarette deaths
    09 Jun 01 | Health
    Fathers urged to quit smoking
    14 Dec 00 | Health
    Anti-smoking campaign cuts deaths
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