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Smoking and Health

Woman smoking

The effects of smoking on people's health are often startling. Smoking seriously harms the lungs, heart, mouth and throat. The bones, skin, immune and reproductive system are all adversely affected. Toxic chemicals contained in cigarettes include ammonia, arsenic, butane and cyanide. Smoking causes 90% of lung cancer, 75% of chronic bronchitis and 25% of ischaemic heart disease. A 1998 government white paper, 'Smoking Kills' states that of every thousand 20 year old lifelong smokers, one will be murdered, six will die in road accidents, whilst two hundred and fifty will die in middle age as a result of smoking.

Tobacco was first brought to Europe from the Americas in the mid-sixteenth century. It was variously smoked in pipes, as cigars, taken as snuff and chewed. Consumption only began to reach epidemic levels with the introduction of the manufactured cigarette in the twentieth century; in 1880 some 10 billion cigarettes were smoked worldwide, in 1900 this rose to 50 billion and in 2000 that figure was 5,500 billion. That is 15 cigarettes a day for every man, woman and child.

Health risks of smoking have been commented on since earliest times. In 1604 in his Counterblast To Tobacco', England's King James I wrote of its harm to the lungs and brain of the smoker. In 1962, the Royal College of Physicians published its report 'Smoking and Health'. It became a landmark in raising public awareness, carefully listing risks and graphically illustrating the phenomenal rise in tobacco consumption whist stating that in England 75% of men and 50% of women smoked. By 1998 these figures were down to 28% and 26% respectively. This trend has bottomed out in developed countries, whilst in developing countries, the figure is rising, in many cases alarmingly. Nearly one third of all cigarettes are smoked in China.

The effects of passively inhaling someone else's smoke were highlighted by Hiroyama in Japan in 1981. Passive smokers' risk of lung cancer increases by 20-30% and risk of heart disease by 23%. It is estimated that 40% of children smoke passively at home.

Today there are many publications warning about the dangers of smoking, often aimed at young people. In many countries there has been a move away from the active promotion of smoking. Advertising has been limited or banned and smoking in many workplaces or public places is no longer permitted. Government health warnings are more stark, especially in Canada. At odds with this however, the USA still spends $10 billion annually, marketing cigarettes, whilst sports sponsorship and lobbying of governments by tobacco producers continues.

Smoking in Public Places

From 1 July 2007, the whole of the United Kingdom will have smoke free legislation in place, making it the biggest jurisdiction in the world (by population) to have legally-enforced protection from second-hand smoke. Several other countries have already introduced legislation to this effect Norway, Ireland and several States in the US. In March 2004 a BBC poll showed that almost three-quarters of people (73%) who responded to a BBC survey want a ban on smoking in all public places. Also, a poll by Mintel found that 15 percent of smokers said they would quit smoking if a ban was introduced.

In October 2003 the government issued a briefing paper, Smoking in Public Places, setting out the evidence on the health effects of passive smoking (see link below). Smoking in public places was banned in Scotland in Spring 2006, and in Wales on 2nd April 2007, Northern Ireland on 30 April, and England on 1 July. The new law covers most public premises - restaurants, pubs, bars, shops, cinemas, shopping centres, leisure centres, sports stadiums, public buildings like hospitals, schools, libraries and council offices and other enclosed workplaces. It also covers public transport and work vehicles which could be used by more than one person. .

Cancer Research UK has joined with other concerned charities ASH, Marie Curie Cancer Care, Quit and No Smoking Day and launched the Clear the Air Campaign. On the other side of the debate, opposing such bans, is Forest, an organisation which aims to protect the interests and rights of smokers, and which argues that a smoking ban restricts choice.

For up-to-date information see the ASH website


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NHS Smoking Helpline 0800 022 4332

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