Doctors are calling for plain cigarette packaging to be introduced as part of a new anti-smoking campaign, 50 years after a landmark report warned of its health threats.
Smoking continues to kill around 100,000 Britons each year and unless smokers give up their habit, 100 million years of life will be lost in the UK, according to experts.
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, 100 million years of life will be lost, it warns.
The RCP has called for the price of tobacco and cigarettes to be put up, claiming that cigarettes are 50 per cent more affordable now than they were in 1965.
The group also 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.
There are still about 8 million people in this country who smoke. It is still the largest avoidable cause of death. Health Secretary Andrew Lansley
Professor John Britton, chair of the RCP tobacco advisory group, 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.”
Health Secretary 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.
“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.
“We will end tobacco displays in large shops and consult on a plain packaging. And we will launch a new hard-hitting campaign to warn of the hidden dangers of second hand smoke,” he said.
But some groups have criticised calls for a new anti-smoking campaign and say adults have the “right to make informed choices”.
Smokers are now treated like lepers and vilified for their habit. Intolerance and scaremongering have replaced legitimate consumer information and common sense. -Simon Clark, Smokers’ group Forest
“Regrettably, since 1962 education has been replaced by coercion and smokers are now treated like lepers and vilified for their habit,” Simon Clark, director of the smokers’ group Forest, said.
“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.”