Page last updated at 14:19 GMT, Sunday, 6 July 2008 15:19 UK

BMA urges tougher tobacco rules

By Nick Triggle
Health reporter, BBC News, Edinburgh

Over a fifth of adults still smoke

Doctors have called for a range of measures to rid the UK of smoking in a report launched at the British Medical Association conference in Edinburgh.

The BMA said it wanted to see tough restrictions on the sale of tobacco and new rules to limit the impact of films.

The report said such measures, with a particular emphasis on targeting young people, would make ensuring the UK was tobacco-free by 2035 a realistic aim.

Slightly more than a fifth of adults smoke - half the level of the 1970s.

The report said the young were particularly susceptible. It pointed out smoking habits developed in the teenage years were often carried into adulthood.

In particular, the report called for all films and TV programmes which portray positive images of smoking to be preceded by an anti-smoking advert, and for film censors to take into account pro-smoking content when classifying films.

It also said that although the UK had quite restrictive tobacco legislation in place already, young people were susceptible to creative marketing strategies such as elaborate point-of-sale displays, attractive pack designs and brand imagery.

It is essential that further action is taken to promote a tobacco-free lifestyle that deglamourises smoking
Dr Vivienne Nathanson

The BMA said a no-nonsense approach was needed - banning displays, insisting on plain packaging and setting minimum price levels.

Meanwhile, retailers should be regulated through a licensing scheme, it added.

The report comes after the age of sale for tobacco was raised from 16 to 18 last year in England, Wales and Scotland. Northern Ireland is to follow suit this year.

The respective governments have also proposed banning vending machine sales and the use of small packets, while bans are already in place across the UK on smoking in public places.

'Robust marketing'

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, the BMA's head of science and ethics, said there had been a "number of encouraging developments", but more action was still needed to end the era of smoking.

"The long-term trends for people quitting have slowed down in recent years so it is essential that further action is taken to promote a tobacco-free lifestyle that deglamourises smoking.

"Young people are surrounded by positive images of tobacco - from smoking by parents and peers, to celebrities and role models they see in the media.

"They are also exposed to robust tobacco industry marketing - all this serves to reinforce the habit as being forever cool."

Professor Gerard Hastings, of Cancer Research UK, who contributed to the report, said children would only be truly protected when "tobacco promotion and marketing in all its forms ceases to exist".

The Department of Health said it was looking at a number of measures.

A spokeswoman said: "Protecting children from smoking is a priority - taking away temptation is one way to do this."

But a spokesman for the pro-smoking group Forest said removing cigarettes from public display made "absolutely no difference" and could make it the situation worse by making smoking seem more taboo and attractive to rebellious teenagers.

He said the authorities would be far better to make vending machines credit card operated, while the measures for TV and films were tantamount to censorship.

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