NB. Please note that if you are outside North America, the embargo for Lancet press material is 0001 hours UK Time 5 December 2003.
This week's Lancet editorial comments on the current debate about smoking in public places, and goes further by calling for a total UK ban on cigarettes in order to tackle the impacts of tobacco-related illness and mortality.
The editorial comments: 'Most people-smokers and non-smokers-support restrictions on smoking in workplaces, and half even support restrictions in bars. 80% of people in the UK are non-smokers, and have the right to freedom from exposure to proven carcinogens. Employers who allow smoking in their workplaces are exposing their employees to a proven health hazard. And since restaurants, bars, and clubs are workplaces too, their owners have a duty to protect their workforces. It has been estimated that 1000 people a year in the UK alone die from second-hand tobacco smoke.'
'Second-hand smoke not only kills but also makes it more difficult for smokers to give up. Most smokers want to quit, but failure to provide smokefree working and social environments makes their goal more difficult to reach. In a report by the Royal College of Physicians, it is estimated that if all workplaces in the UK became smokefree, 300 000 would quit, saving 150 000 lives. Tobacco kills 4•2 million annually worldwide, and is estimated to kill over 10 million a year by the late 2020s. Nicotine is a highly addictive drug, and cigarettes are the most toxic and carcinogenic means of delivering nicotine. Calling for a ban on smoking in public places is a start, but it is missing the point. Tim Lord, the Chief Executive of the Tobacco Manufacturers' Association, believes that price is the main determinant of how many smokers there are. We disagree. Availability and acceptability are more important. If tobacco were an illegal substance, possession of cigarettes would become a crime, and the number of smokers would drastically fall. Cigarette smoking is a dangerous addiction. We should be doing a great deal more to prevent this disease and to help its victims. We call on Tony Blair's government to ban tobacco'.