The head of Britain's biggest cigarette company said in a newspaper interview published today that people are "better off" avoiding tobacco.

Martin Broughton, executive chairman of British American Tobacco, the second biggest cigarette maker in the world, said he had made a personal decision not to smoke based on the fear of smoking-related diseases.

"I think there are health risks attached to smoking," The Times newspaper quoted him as saying.

Broughton said he would have warned his grown son and daughter – who also do not smoke – against picking up the habit if he had "caught them behind the bike sheds" when they were young.

"I said to them 'I would advise you not to smoke. But if you want to smoke it is your affair. It is not good for you. You are better off not smoking," he said.

Broughton said he enjoyed only the "occasional after dinner cigar."

BAT is one of several tobacco companies named in class lawsuits worth billions of dollars in the United States. Smokers claim the firms should have warned of the health risks involved in smoking.