One smoker in five is already ill from tobacco-related causes

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ALMOST ONE in five smokers in the UK is already ill with a tobacco- related disease, or will become ill in the next two years, according to a report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) published yesterday to mark World No-Tobacco Day.

The report spells out the benefits of persuading smokers to quit in France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and the UK, which are members of a European Partnership Project to cut smoking.

Nearly 3 million of Britain's 17 million smokers will have succumbed to heart or lung disease or, among women, will have given birth to an underweight baby at greater risk of complications by 2001. The cost of treating these patients is put at more than pounds 4bn in the UK, more than 10 per cent of the total NHS budget.

Projected over the next 20 years the number of smokers struck down by illness rises to almost 6 million and the costs to almost pounds 28bn.

The chief casualties will be those who develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, expected to number 1.7 million over the next two years. More than 500,000 will develop heart disease or suffer a stroke, and almost 100,000 women smokers will give birth to low birth-weight babies.

Dr Peter Anderson, acting director of health promotion for WHO in Europe, said the statistical model used to produce the projections showed that over the next 20 years in the six countries, between a third and a half of smokers will develop a tobacco-related disease resulting in 14 million preventable deaths. In 1998, an estimated 30 million Europeans tried to quit smoking, but over 90 per cent failed.

Dr Anderson added: "Nicotine dependence is an addiction and is formally classified as a disease. This will help to convince governments to back initiatives to encourage quitting."

The three-year partnership project, launched by the director-general of WHO, Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, last January, is intened to support the millions of people in Europe who are trying to shake off their addiction to tobacco. It is backed by professional, government and voluntary organisations and by companies manufacturing nicotine gum and patches.

n Scientists believe they may have discovered an early warning sign of lung cancer. The disease claims 35,000 lives a year in the UK, more than any other cancer, and is almost exclusively caused by smoking. Only 5 per cent of sufferers survive for five years.

Cancers of the lung are nearly always advanced by the time they are diagnosed, making treatment hopeless. Now scientists at the University of Liverpool have found a genetic marker that could be used to identify patients at risk.

Professor John Field and colleagues, writing in the Cancer Research Journal, say: "Early identification ... would greatly improve the effectiveness of treatment."