Stop Being So Mealy Mouthed on Tobacco, UK Governments Told

OnMedica News
8 Sept 2008

A new independent regulatory authority should be set up, as part of a package of measures to eradicate smoking completely from Britain, urges a new report, published yesterday.

The report, from the Tobacco Advisory Group of the Royal College of Physicians, claims that if the government was prepared to adopt this, and other more radical measures, it could virtually kill off smoking altogether in Britain by 2025.

Ending tobacco smoking in Britain: Radical strategies for prevention and harm reduction in nicotine addiction is part of the College’s response to the Department of Health’s consultation on the future of tobacco control, which closes today.

It says that conventional approaches, such as price hikes, advertising bans, legislation, health promotion campaigns, and stop smoking services will only reduce smoking prevalence by between 0.5 and 1.0 percentage points a year.

That means it will take between 11 and 22 years for the smoking rates in England to fall from the current 22% (10 million smokers) to 11% (5 million smokers).

The report argues that much more could and should be done to make smoking as unappealing and unacceptable as possible, and importantly, to make alternative, less hazardous nicotine products as affordable and attractive as possible.

Proposals include increasing the tax on tobacco by 10% every year, licensing tobacco retailers, and cracking down on tobacco smuggling, with the application of class A drug penalties for tobacco smuggling and under-age sale.

It also calls for low cost single day nicotine packs to be available from any retail outlet and the permanent exemption of medicinal nicotine from VAT.

Medicinal nicotine should be provided for all smokers on the NHS, not just those on a smoking cessation programme, it says.

More products that deliver doses of nicotine as quickly as cigarettes should also be developed, it says, with the removal of current regulations that inhibit the development of new, more effective cigarette substitutes.

A new nicotine regulatory authority that is completely independent of the tobacco and pharmaceutical industries should also be set up to oversee all these proposals, and monitor their impact, it says.

Professor John Britton, who chairs of the RCP Tobacco Advisory Group, commented: "Smoking is still the biggest public health problem in the UK, and a problem of this magnitude and importance demands radical and effective action to prevent any further avoidable loss of life.”

Our governments have shown themselves more than willing to react decisively to other public health problems, but despite the progress of the past 10 years, still do not seem willing to take all the actions in their power to prevent children from starting to smoke, or encourage existing smokers to quit,” he continued.

“The UK has led the world in many areas of public health in the past; here is our opportunity show the world that tobacco smoking can be driven out of our society," he added.

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