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Tuesday, 8 February, 2000, 11:08 GMT
'Treat nicotine as a hard drug'
Cigarette smoke
Nicotine is powerfully addictive
Nicotine should be treated as a powerfully addictive drug similar to heroin and cocaine, leading doctors have said.

The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has called for a much tougher regulation of tobacco products, and for concerted action to help addicts quit.

It is time for nicotine to become a major health priority in Britain

Professor George Alberti, president, Royal College of Physicians
A report by the RCP's Tobacco Advisory Group says an independent expert committee should be established to examine options for nicotine regulation.

It suggests that tobacco products should be regulated by the Medicines Control Agency.

Alternatively, the government should consider establishing a nicotine regulatory authority.

The report warns that a recent downward trend in the number of people who smoke in the UK has stalled.

As a result, nicotine addiction is still a major medical and social problem, the report says, and urgent action is needed to help people give up smoking.

The report also calls for:

  • The government to provide universal access to proven smoking cessation services
  • Doctors to recognise nicotine addiction as a major medical priority
  • Treating nicotine addiction to be considered as a fundamental role of the GP
  • Cessation support to be compulsory for all hospitals and health service providers
  • Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) to be available to all smokers through NHS prescription

The RCP report also says that the way tar and nicotine in cigarettes are measured at present is misleading and should be replaced with measurements that reflect the way real smokers smoke.

It also says that branding such as 'light', 'mild' and other words that imply a reduced health risk should be banned unless convincing evidence of a significant reduction in risk is proven.

In addition, warning labels on tobacco products should make it clear how addictive they are.

Nicotine facts
In 1997 in Britain approximately one in four adults were cigarette smokers
By age 15, one in four British children are regular smokers
Smoking causes one in every five deaths in Britain
30% of pregnant women in Britain smoke
Smoking costs the NHS an estimated 1.5 billion per year
Professor Sir George Alberti, RCP president, said: "At a time when smoking still causes one in every five deaths in Britain, measures designed to achieve further reductions in smoking are clearly important and, if successful, will realise substantial public health benefits.

"It is time for nicotine to become a major health priority in Britain."

Smoking is recognised as the single largest avoidable cause of premature death and disability in Britain. It causes one in every five deaths.

Addiction to nicotine is established in most smokers during teenage years within about a year of first experimenting with cigarettes.

'Not a quirky habit'

Clive Bates, director of the anti-smoking charity ASH (Action on Smoking and Health), welcomed the RCP report.

He said: "They are trying to re-position tobacco from being a moderate, quirky consumer habit to being a major hard drug.

"The evidence is quite compelling that nicotine is on a par with heroin and cocaine in terms of its ability to form a dependency in the user."


What the anti-smokers cannot accept is that a great many smokers actually enjoy smoking and get a great deal of pleasure from it

Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco
FOREST, the Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco, said there was nothing in tobacco products that prevented consumers from giving up if they wished to do so.

In a statement, FOREST said: "By arguing that smokers are 'slaves to the weed', state paternalists such as ASH are crudely attempting to override the idea that adult smokers are exercising their free will and are old enough to make their own lifestyle choices.

"This in turn gives them the excuse to insist that the state must apply the tightest restrictions on smokers and smoking, 'for their own good'.

"What the anti-smokers cannot accept is that a great many smokers actually enjoy smoking and get a great deal of pleasure from it."

Public Health minister Yvette Cooper welcomed the report. She said: "Seventy per cent of smokers say they want to stop smoking. But nicotine addiction is one of the main reasons that smokers find it hard to stop.

"The Royal College of Physicians' report shows that this addiction is real."

See also:

19 Nov 99 | Medical notes
25 Nov 99 | Health
14 Jun 99 | Health
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