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Warning over lives cut by smoking

One hundred million years of life will be lost in the UK unless people who are currently smoking quit, experts are warning.

The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) said more than a fifth of the population still smokes and, with smokers losing an average of 10 years of life each, a hundred million years of life will be lost. Half of people who smoke are known to die from their habit.

The RCP published its first report on smoking and health in 1962 and has updated its findings for a one-day conference.

Since 1962, more than six million people have died as a result of smoking but at least 360,000 deaths have also been prevented owing to there being fewer smokers overall.

At the meeting, the RCP will discuss further action for cutting the number of smokers. It believes the cost of tobacco and cigarettes should be put up, arguing that although heavily taxed, cigarettes are still 50% more affordable now than they were in 1965. Real prices are also undercut by discounting, small pack sizes and illegal supplies, it says.

The RCP wants "unnecessary" brand images for tobacco removed from films and TV programmes watched by children and young people, and supports a move towards plain packaging for tobacco.

Furthermore, it wants the smoking ban extended to parks and other public areas, while saying children should be legally protected from smoke in cars and homes, and there should be mass media campaigns on the dangers of smoking.

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 50 years smoking, like slavery, will have passed into history."

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