Page last updated at 23:21 GMT, Monday, 6 October 2008 00:21 UK

Smoking 'costs the NHS billions'

underage smoking
Plain cigarette packets with no branding is one option being looked at

Treating smokers costs the NHS in England 2.7bn a year, compared with 1.7bn a decade ago, a report claims.

Anti-smoking group Ash says the cost would have risen to over 3bn had action to curb smoking not seen numbers fall from 12 million to nine million.

The report's proposals to cut smoking include mandatory plain packaging. The government is consulting on next steps in tobacco control and regulation.

Lobby group Forest argues that smokers pay over 9bn a year in tobacco tax.

We need to protect young people from the aggressive marketing techniques employed by the tobacco industry
Deborah Arnott, director of ASH

Future tobacco measures could include restricting the display of tobacco products in shops - putting cigarettes under the counter - and removing branding and logos from all tobacco packaging.

Smokers' lobby groups and tobacco manufacturers are opposed to such measures, saying they are unnecessary, unreasonable and unjustified.

It has been illegal for manufacturers to use trademarks, text or any sign to suggest that one tobacco product is less harmful than another since 2003.

But recent research carried out at Nottingham University suggests that products bearing the word "smooth" or using lighter coloured branding mislead young people into thinking that these products are less harmful to their health.

The research also reveals that young people are between three and four times less likely to pick a plain pack as a branded one if they were trying smoking for the first time, supporting calls for plain packaging and countering industry claims that plain packs would be more attractive to young people.

Tougher laws

Ash, the British Heart Foundation and Cancer Research UK would like a requirement that all tobacco products have plain packaging.

They would also like the display of tobacco products in shops to be banned.

Deborah Arnott, director of Ash, said: "The government could save thousands of lives and hundreds of millions from the NHS budget with an ambitious new tobacco control strategy. More than anything we need to protect young people from the aggressive marketing techniques employed by the tobacco industry."

Jill Morrell of the British Lung Foundation said: "Two thirds of people with smoking-related lung disease tell us there should be a ban on cigarette vending machines in future and the same number say they want to see cigarettes removed from display in supermarkets."

'Unreasonable and unworkable'

The Tobacco Manufacturers' Association is opposed to tobacco display bans which it says are not supported by robust evidence, will not achieve the stated public health benefit and will have serious unintended consequences.

A spokeswoman said: "Tobacco product displays are not predictors of youth smoking.

These proposals go way beyond what is acceptable or reasonable in a free society

Simon Clark, director of the smokers' lobby group Forest

"Where product displays have been banned, in Iceland and some Canadian provinces, for example, there has been no resulting reduction in smoking consumption."

The TMA says there is a danger that a ban on the display of products would blur the distinction between the legal and illegal market.

Simon Clark, director of the smokers' lobby group Forest, said: "Far from being a drain on society, smokers make an enormous financial contribution. Each year smokers pay over 9bn in tobacco taxation, a figure that dwarfs the alleged cost of smoking to the NHS."

He said banning the display of tobacco in shops and introducing plain packaging was designed to "denormalise smoking and embarrass smokers into giving up".

"It's one thing to educate people about the health risks of smoking, but these proposals go way beyond what is acceptable or reasonable in a free society."

One in seven 15 year olds is already a regular smoker. Two thirds (66%) of regular smokers start before the age of 18 and two fifths (39%) start before the age of 16.

Over 80,000 people die from smoking-related disease in England every year.

Call to ban all tobacco adverts
31 May 08 |  Special Reports

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