40 Fatal Years – 5 million dead. The 40th anniversary of the RCP 1962 report Smoking and Health.

Thursday 07 March 2002


Forty years ago on 7th March 1962 the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) warned the government of the day about the dangers of tobacco-related death and disease by publishing its ground breaking report ‘Smoking and Health‘.  Since that time over five million premature deaths have occurred in Britain as a result of smoking; tobacco control remains the poor relation of health policy; and many of the RCP’s original policy recommendations have still not been implemented.

The College and ASH are calling on the present Government to make up for years of previous Government inaction by implementing those policy recommendations, starting with full Government support for the Lords’ Private Members Bill to ban tobacco advertising, sponsorship and promotion.  In addition the two organisations want to see a far-reaching and committed approach to tobacco policy, including:

Policy measures that reduce the motivation to smoke – for example;

·         The use of bold, bleak warnings to communicate risk – and to reduce the attractiveness of cigarette packs.

·         Elimination of misleading reassurance to smokers – such as ‘light’ branding and disproportionate claims of reduced harm in novel tobacco products.

·         Control of additives and other manufacturing techniques that may make tobacco products more addictive or easier to learn to use.

Policy measures that motivate smokers to quit – for example:

·         Substantial spending on a powerful mass media-based education campaign

·         Increased provision of smoke-free environments at work and in public places – Government inaction in this area has been a conspicuous failure of the commitment made in its tobacco White Paper.

·         Proper risk communication on packs

·         Continuing use of tax policy (combined with measures to control of smuggling) to apply price incentives to quit.

Policy measures that help motivated smokers to quit – for example:

·         Long-term commitment to stabilise and expand the established smoking cessation services to meet far more challenging targets (up to four times the current target of 20,000 people);

·         Inclusion of obligations to make regular and brief smoking cessation interventions

·         The development of a smoking cessation service in every hospital.

·         The inclusion of smoking cessation in other settings – for example, ante-natal services, social services, prisons, educational institutions.

·         Integration of smoking into medical training at all levels – the College is already active in rising to this challenge by developing

To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the RCP’s first ever report on smoking and health, ASH and the College have produced a commemorative booklet (pdf) containing:

  • a historical overview of the government’s failure to act to protect public health at the time of the Report’s launch, and the almost complete failure of successive governments to tackle the issue seriously
  • a critique of the present political complacency towards smoking and health issues
  • the recommendations outlined above that should be implemented to establish a comprehensive and effective tobacco policy

Professor Sir George Alberti, President of the Royal College of Physicians, said:

“It is shameful that forty years on we still have so many unnecessary preventable deaths from smoking.  We must have widespread urgent action now.”

Clive Bates, Director of ASH, said:

“You can either see the last 40 years as a catastrophe with five million dead from smoking or a public health triumph with almost two million saved due to the reduction in smoking since 1962.  Either way, we still need to see tobacco as a potent malign force in society filling the cardiac and cancer wards, draining away peoples’ lives and soaking up NHS resources.”

Sir Richard Doll, President of ASH, said:

“Enjoy life more and enjoy it for longer – don’t smoke!”

Professor John Britton, Chair of the RCP’s Tobacco Advisory Group, said:

“40 years on, nicotine addiction is still the biggest threat to health in this country.  Most of the recommendations made by the College in 1962 are sadly just as relevant now.  Treating and preventing addiction to nicotine should be health priority number one in the UK.”

There are a very limited number of hard copies, but the booklet is free to download from the ASH website (PDF).