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One hundred million years of life will be lost by those smoking now

At a 1 day conference to commemorate 50 years since the publication in 1962 of its first ever report on smoking – Smoking and health – the Royal College of Physicians sets out a stark warning about the current and future dangers of smoking, and sets out the key public policy areas for action to deal with the UK’s largest cause of preventable deaths.

The conference ‘Fifty years since Smoking and health – Progress, lessons and priorities for a smoke-free UK’ is being held at the RCP on Tuesday 6 March.

Since the publication of the 1962 report:

  • UK smoking prevalence has fallen substantially but still over 20% of the population smokes - some 10 million people
  • half of those will die from smoking, unless they quit, losing a total of 100 million years of life
  • since 1962, over 6 million people have died as a result of smoking
  • at least 360,000 deaths  from smoking have been prevented by the drop in prevalence of smoking since 1962.

Since the report was published, there have been many changes in public policy designed to reduce the burden of our biggest killer, including a ban on smoking in public places, a ban on tobacco advertising and sponsorship, the growth of NHS smoking cessation services, restrictions on the sale of cigarettes to children, and price increases.  These changes have made a difference, but we could do so much more, for example:

  • higher prices - although heavily taxed, cigarettes are 50% more affordable now in the UK than they were in 1965, and real prices are undercut by discounting, small pack sizes and illicit supply
  • remove unnecessary cigarettes and tobacco brand imagery from films and TV programmes watched by children and young people
  • mass media campaigns to reach TV audiences at peak times, backed up with national, local and social media advertising
  • extension of smoke-free policies to parks and other public areas, and legal protection of children against smoke in cars and homes
  • better NHS cessation services, to reach out the 90% of smokers who do not currently use them each year
  • plain packaging for cigarettes to remove brand associations, which are particularly strong with young people
  • providing clean nicotine as an affordable and more attractive option for smokers.

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.

Sir Richard Thompson, RCP president, said:

This important conference marks another milestone in the RCP’s efforts to reduce unnecessary deaths and disease from smoking. I hope that in another fifty years smoking, like slavery, will have passed into history.


For further information, please contact Linda Cuthbertson, head of PR, on +44 (0)203 075 1254 / 0774 877 7919, or email Linda.Cuthbertson@rcplondon.ac.uk