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Fifty years since smoking and health

This report includes 15 papers presented by leading experts to commemorate 50 years since the publication of the RCP Smoking and health report.

In the 50 years since the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) published Smoking and health in March 1962, the place of tobacco in UK society has changed beyond recognition. Smoking prevalence has halved, and the epidemic of deaths caused by smoking, which lags about 20 years behind smoking prevalence, is now also in decline.

With the UK having been a world leader in the production, promotion and consumption of cigarettes throughout much of 20th century, the publication of the government White Paper Smoking kills in 1998 heralded the emergence of the UK as a new world leader in smoking prevention. Yet smoking is still the largest avoidable cause of premature death and disability in the UK, where there are still around 10 million smokers, of whom half will die prematurely as a result of their smoking, unless they quit.

Smoking prevention has been most successful among the more skilled, educated and affl uent socioeconomic groups, with the result that smoking is now also the largest avoidable cause of social health inequalities in the UK. Smoking also remains a massive drain on economic resources, costing the NHS alone around £5 billion, and wider society an estimated £14 billion.