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Health Insight April 2001: The drive to cut smoking

  In another government move to persuade Britain's 13 million smokers to give up, nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products are to be given on prescription. The DoH believes the offer will prove cost-effective through reducing the £1.4bn annual burden on the NHS of treating people with smoking-related diseases. Research has shown that NRT can double the success rates of stopping smoking, compared with willpower alone.

The government is also backing European Union directives to cut tar levels in cigarettes. Maximum tar yields in cigarettes will be cut, as will those of nicotine and carbon monoxide. Misleading descriptions on cigarette packets, which suggest that some tobacco products are safer than others, will be banned in future. This directive strengthens health warnings on tobacco products to include references to passive smoking, ageing of the skin, and impotence.

An anti-smoking advert with a difference is appearing on British TV screens. The advert, which compares cigarettes to serial killers, was designed by teenagers, for teenagers, in a competition organised by the Cancer Research Campaign (CRC) and Get-Into, a company which aims to create opportunities for young people. The CRC estimates about 450 children aged 11-19 start smoking every day; about 21 per cent of boys and 25 per cent of girls aged 15 are addicted to cigarettes. One competition winner said, 'In the past adults have designed the adverts. But if someone your own age is doing it, it will have more chance.'

Given these positive moves, it is hardly surprising that health campaigners are angry that, in the budget, Chancellor Gordon Brown decided that the duty on tobacco would not be increased by more than the rate of inflation, resulting in a rise of just 6p in the cost of a packet of 20 cigarettes. Professor Gordon McVie, Director General of the CRC, said, 'We are disappointed that the government has decided against a greater-than-inflation rise in tobacco taxes, as we know from our own evidence that higher taxes help people quit… with 300 people dying every day in the UK from tobacco-related disease it would have been a life-saver.'

Sources: Sunday Times 11 March, BBC Online, Press release (DoH)

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