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Attempts by tobacco industry lobbyists to make any debate around smoking legislation about health versus freedom are “dishonest”, England’s Chief Medical Officer has said.
Professor Sir Chris Whitty said most people who smoke want to quit but cannot because the cigarette industry has “addicted them at a very young age”.
He praised Dr Javed Khan’s review into how England can become smoke-free for being “bold” in its recommendations.
The cigarette industry lobbyists will try to make this a debate between health and freedom. It is the most dishonest debate you can possibly imagine.
Professor Sir Chris Whitty
Sir Chris said a small number of wealthy companies are profiting from some of the most vulnerable in society.
He told a briefing as the Khan report was launched on Thursday that it is those with mental health problems, the unemployed, those in difficult financial circumstances who are “the people the cigarette industry industry makes its profits out of”.
He said: “Anybody who travels around the country as I do sees that the cigarette industry is by far at its most active wherever people are at their poorest, their most vulnerable.”
He criticised as “dishonest” any attempt to make out that this is a debate between health and freedom of choice.
He said: “The cigarette industry lobbyists will try to make this a debate between health and freedom. It is the most dishonest debate you can possibly imagine.
“The majority of people who are smokers wish to quit, but cannot because the cigarette industry has addicted them at a very young age. They cannot. That is not freedom of choice.
“Smoking causes people who are around a smoker rapid ill health. They’re not choosing to smoke, but they still get the harms of it. That is not freedom of choice.
“The baby in a smoking pregnant woman’s tummy is not choosing to smoke.
“If you’re in favour of freedom, you absolutely are not in favour of this addictive industry that kills so many people.”
Describing the “sheer, staggering scale of the health harm” caused by tobacco products, he said around a quarter of cancer deaths are associated with smoking, adding that “it is by far and away the lead cause” of lung cancer in the UK.
He added that the harmful effects of smoking result in “great strain on the NHS”, causing not just deaths but harm to general health and quality of life, citing people living with chronic obstructive airways disease and others who have needed amputations or had strokes due to smoking.
Professor Sir Chris Whitty said he was speaking on behalf of other UK chief medical officers who were live-streaming into the briefing.