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Smoking costing NHS £2.7bn a year

The annual cost of smoking to the NHS in England has soared from £1.7bn a year in 1998 to £2.7bn this year.

Presented at the NCRI conference today the figures are included in a major new report, Beyond Smoking Kills, published by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), in collaboration with the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK and endorsed by over 100 health and welfare organisations.

The report also finds that tobacco manufacturers are misleading smokers and young people about the safety of cigarettes and calls for radical new legal steps to protect young people from inheriting the smoking habit and to curb tobacco marketing. The government is now considering what action to take in a new Health Bill, to be included in the Queen's Speech in December.

Beyond Smoking Kills calls on the government to introduce a comprehensive tobacco control strategy which could help a further 4.5 million smokers to quit by 2015 by:

  • Requiring plain packaging for all tobacco products.
  • Prohibiting the display of tobacco products in shops.
  • Clamping down on smuggling.
  • Giving smokers access to safer nontobacco alternatives to smoking.

New research from the University of Nottingham, also published in the report, shows that tobacco branding and packaging sends misleading "smoke signals" to young people. Although it has been illegal for manufacturers to use trademarks, text or any sign to suggest that one tobacco product is less harmful than another since 2003, this research shows that products bearing the word "smooth" or using lighter coloured branding mislead young people into thinking that these products are less harmful to their health.

The research also reveals that young people are between three and four times less likely to pick a plain pack as a branded one if they were trying smoking for the first time, supporting calls for plain packaging and countering industry claims that plain packs would be more attractive to young people.

One in seven 15 year olds regularly smokes and two-thirds (66%) of regular smokers start before they are 18. Strategies to reduce the attractiveness of smoking and reducing accessibility of cigarettes to young people would have a dramatic influence on take-up rates of smoking among young people.

The report recognises the great progress made with tobacco control in the 10 years since the government published its last tobacco strategy, Smoking Kills, in 1998. However, it concludes that much more needs to be done to protect children and reduce inequalities caused by England's largest cause of preventable death.

Chair of the Editorial Board Peter Kellner said: "There is a terrible gap in life expectancy between the richest and poorest in British society. Smoking is by far the biggest single factor, accounting for half the difference. A child born today who never smokes will live, on average, 10 years longer than a child who takes up smoking. The younger a smoker starts, the harder it is for them to quit.

"Our report sets out a comprehensive strategy for government action to protect children from exposure to smoke and smoking, to support smokers to quit and to help smokers who are not yet ready to quit to reduce the harm they cause themselves. Smoking remains the greatest public health problem in our society - but we now have a great opportunity to stop the next generation from inheriting this lethal habit."

Beyond Smoking Kills

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Is this a good opportunity to stop the next generation from taking up smoking? Your comments: (Terms and conditions apply)

"The most effective way of stopping uptake of smoking by young people would be to make tobacco a prescription drug. An existing smoker would apply for a prescription which would allow them to purchase enough for their own personal use. If there was a time limit on new prescriptions (say 12 months) then after that time you would have a fixed and falling number of smokers." - Seb, Chesterfield