More must be done to control tobacco industry, say experts

It is described as the biggest public health disaster in the history of the world bar none with its perpetrators linked to terrorists. And smoking will kill up to a billion people worldwide this century unless governments stamp down on the half-trillion dollar tobacco industry.

These are the words of John Seffrin, chief executive of the American Cancer Society, who was speaking at a high-level forum of the world's 100 leading cancer experts gathered in the Swiss resort of Lugano.

They said that governments must do far more than they have done to control the global tobacco industry, either by raising cigarette prices dramatically, outlawing tobacco marketing or by taxing the multinational profits of the big cigarette firms. If current trends continue, with cigarette firms targeting the non-smoking populations of the developing world, then hundreds of millions of people will be dying of cancer in the second half of this century, they said.

Some of the experts attending the World Oncology Forum went further by calling for an outright ban on cigarettes and for the tobacco industry to be treated as a terrorist movement for the way it targets new markets. "We have a major global industry producing a product that is lethal to at least half the people who use it. It will kill, if current trends continue, a billion people this century," said Dr Seffrin who leads the US national society dedicated to eliminating cancer.

"It killed 100 million in the last century... but this will be the biggest public health disaster in the history of the world bar none," Dr Seffrin told i. "There is a purposeful intent to market a product they know will harm their customers and over time will kill more than half of them."

The science showing that tobacco is the single biggest cause of cancer is now well established following the publication of the earliest evidence in the 1950s by the late Sir Richard Doll, the Oxford epidemiologist who was born 100 years ago yesterday.

European countries need to raise cigarette prices significantly as this is the one proven method of cutting consumption, Sir Richard said. They should adopt a "triple-half-double" strategy, tried in France in the 1990s when cigarette prices were tripled, consumption halved and tobacco tax revenues to the French government doubled. "The governments of Europe need to be able to raise taxes and to do so in politically acceptable ways. Doing it for health reasons, by tripling the price of cigarettes and halving the consumption, is a way of doing both," Professor Peto said.