Letter: How to smoke your way to an early grave

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Sir: I cannot disagree with the conclusions reached by Henry Paul (Letters, 11 October) that tobacco advertising should be banned and that taxes on cigarettes should be increased. However, his misleading statements about the health hazards of smoking cannot be allowed to pass.

Mr Paul should note that, according to Sir Richard Doll and Richard Peto, two of the most eminent scientists in their field, the risks of lung cancer are directly related to smoking. The annual death rate from lung cancer per 100,000 of the population in Britain is 10 among non-smokers. If you smoke 1-14 cigarettes a day it rises to 78 (eight times that of a non-smoker). If you smoke between 15 and 24 the number of deaths per 100,000 is 127 (13 times that of the non-smoker). Twenty-five cigarettes a day and the rate reaches 251 deaths per 100,000 (25 times that of non-smokers).

These are the kind of facts beyond which smokers need not look. The reality for the majority of smokers is that they need practical motivation to give up rather than facts to persuade them it is a good idea. Whether that motivation can be supplied by health professionals such as GPs or indirectly by the removal of the promotional messages in tobacco advertising is the debate. The BMA argues that both measures have a role to play.

Mr Paul is also wrong to imply that the smoking habits of doctors are above the national average, which stands at around 30 per cent. A recent BMA survey of general practitioners showed that only 6 per cent smoked.

Yours faithfully,

FLEUR FISHER

Head of Ethics

Science and Information

British Medical Association

London, WC1

13 October

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