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Tide turns in battle for tobacco control

It was less than a decade ago, but the days of smoky restaurants and bars are now bracketed alongside driving without seatbelts and a slug of whisky in a baby’s bottle.

Since the legislation for smoke-free public places in 2007 (a year earlier in Scotland), the tide has turned still further. Recent victories, in which the BMA has worked closely with other members of the Smokefree Action Coalition to support, include the banning of smoking in cars when children are present in England and Wales, with similar plans in Scotland. In addition, standardised packaging will be introduced across the UK from May next year.

But given that smoking still kills 100,000 people a year in the UK, it is only to be expected that public health doctors will be seeking to pursue further the battle for effective tobacco control.

At last year’s BMA annual representative meeting, London research assistant in academic public health Tim Crocker-Buqué made headlines with his call – overwhelmingly backed - to ban the sale of tobacco to anyone born after the year 2000

He said at the time: I do not want our children smoking and nor should anybody else. If they haven’t already started, then let’s keep them smoke-free for life.’

At this year’s annual conference of public health medicine Dr Crocker-Buqué is calling for the Department of Health to be bold in publishing a new tobacco control strategy.

It includes reiterating the ARM’s proposal to limit the sale of tobacco products, but also closer scrutiny of the tobacco industry through a mandatory requirement to report on its sales data, marketing strategy and lobbying activity, and an annual levy on tobacco companies to provide funding for future tobacco control and smoking cessation services. 

The motion also calls for stronger regulation of e-cigarette sales and usage. This matches the concerns already expressed by the BMA about the potential for e-cigarettes to undermine the progress made on tobacco control.

While it is recognised that e-cigarettes could play an important role in reducing the harm caused by tobacco, stronger regulation is needed to ensure that all products on the market are safe and effective in helping smokers cut down and quit, and that their marketing and promotion does not appeal to children and non-smokers.

Dr Crocker Buqué says: ‘About 80 per cent of people start smoking in their teenage years and they end up addicted usually for the rest of their lives.  Banning sales of cigarettes for people born after a certain year means we don’t penalize people who are already smokers which might be very difficult morally and ethically.’

On e-cigarettes, he says: ‘At the moment having adverts which make it look glamorous to young people is undoing a lot of the work done for the last 15 or 20 years or so If you re-normalise smoking e-cigarettes to teenagers and then they graduate onto smoking combustible tobacco as adults that won’t have done them any good. 

‘However it’s possible e-cigarettes might be used by current smokers to give up, so you don’t want to regulate them too heavily because they might be useful. There’s a balance to be struck.’