RCP policy: public health

The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has a long history of promoting public health through evidence-based policy. Physicians and medical professionals have a key role to play not only in managing ill health, but also in supporting people to live healthier lives.

What we are doing

The RCP is working with colleagues across the UK’s major health institutions to tackle public health challenges posed by air pollution and climate change, alcohol, obesity and tobacco.

Air pollution and climate change

The Every breath we take: the lifelong impact of air pollution report by the RCP and Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) found that, each year in the UK, around 40,000 deaths are linked to exposure to outdoor air pollution, which plays a role in many of the major health challenges of our day. The RCP’s key recommendations in this area are:

  1. The government must introduce a clean air bill for the 21st century that tackles the modern sources of air pollution, safeguards the legal protections that we could be stripped of on leaving the EU and improves on existing EU, domestic and international legislation to enshrine the right to breathe clean air. 
  2. The government should promote alternatives to cars fuelled by diesel and petrol, including zero and ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEVs), and invest in active travel, such as walking and cycling.
  3. The NHS, patient charities and medical royal colleges must do more to educate health professionals, policy makers and the public about the serious harm that air pollution causes.

The RCP’s wider work on healthcare sustainability looks to mitigate the environmental, social and financial impacts of the health service, without compromising the health of patients and its ability to provide healthcare in the future.


The RCP works with the Alcohol Health Alliance (AHA) to promote policies for reducing the damage caused by alcohol misuse as set out in Health First: An evidence-based alcohol strategy for the UK. The RCP’s key recommendations in this area include:

  1. A minimum price of at least 50p per unit of alcohol should be introduced for all alcohol sales, together with a mechanism to regularly review and revise this price. Following the supreme court ruling that minimum unit pricing (MUP) is legal and can be implemented in Scotland, the UK government should follow suit and introduce MUP in England as soon as possible. 
  2. At least one-third of every alcohol product label should be given over to an evidence-based health warning specified by an independent regulatory body.
  3. The sale of alcohol in shops should be restricted to specific times of the day and designated areas. No alcohol promotion should occur outside these areas.


To tackle obesity, the RCP believes that urgent action must be taken in the following areas:

  1. Make healthier choices easier by presenting people with easy to understand nutritional information about the products they are buying to help them make an informed healthy decision.
  2. Create a healthy environment by taking action to ensure that our environments facilitate and encourage healthier behaviours, and address the inequalities that drive obesity prevalence among our most deprived communities.
  3. Protect children by closing existing loopholes to restrict children’s exposure to junk food marketing across all forms of media they are exposed to, and fully implement the soft drinks industry levy as soon as possible to reduce the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs).

Find out more about the RCP’s jointly agreed policy positions, consultation responses and briefings via the Obesity Health Alliance (OHA).


Over the last 50 years, the RCP has been at the forefront of contributing to evidence-based policies on tobacco control. Since the publication of Smoking and health in 1962, the RCP’s Tobacco Advisory Group (TAG) continues to investigate the harm caused by smoking.

TAG’s latest report, Nicotine without smoke: Tobacco harm reduction, provides an update on the use of harm reduction in tobacco smoking, in relation to all non-tobacco nicotine products but particularly e-cigarettes. The report recommends:

  1. Cessation services need to be adequately funded, and in clinical settings integrated systematically into routine health service delivery.
  2. All existing and new policies with the potential to promote smoking cessation, particularly among disadvantaged groups, should be applied to their fullest extent.
  3. Regulation should be proportionate - a regulatory strategy should take a balanced approach in seeking to ensure product safety, encourage smokers to use the product instead of tobacco, and detect and prevent effects that counter the overall goals of tobacco control policy.

Who's involved


The RCP works with the Obesity Health Alliance (OHA) to support policy making to tackle the social, economic and cultural factors that contribute to obesity and the inequalities in health caused by obesity.

As a founding member of the Alcohol Health Alliance (AHA), the RCP is working with the AHA to highlight the rising levels of alcohol-related harm, propose evidence-based solutions to reduce this harm and influence decision makers to take positive action to address the damage caused by alcohol misuse.

As a founding member of the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change (UKHACC), the RCP seeks to highlight better approaches to tackling climate change that protect and promote public health.

What we have produced

This report from the RCP and the RCPCH examines the impact of exposure to air pollution across the course of a lifetime.
The RCP wants the UK to retain EU regulation on air quality and seek to continue implementation of its pollution reduction targets.

Breaking the fever: Sustainability and climate change in the NHS gives an overview of the impact of climate change on healthcare in the UK, and how physicians and the NHS can contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Obesity is an increasing and costly public health problem which is not being addressed by current services or policy. This report confronts the issues, and sets out how the NHS should adapt to meet the demands of an increasingly obese nation.

This report provides an update on the use of harm reduction in tobacco smoking, particularly in relation to e-cigarettes.