06/03/2012 07:55 GMT | Updated 05/05/2012 10:12 BST

Smoking To Cost UK '100m Years Of Life' In A Generation

One hundred million years of life will be lost in the UK unless people who are currently smoking quit, experts are warning.

The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) said more than a fifth of the population still smokes and, with smokers losing an average of 10 years of life each, a hundred million years of life will be lost.

Half of people who smoke are known to die from their habit.

The RCP published its first report on smoking and health in 1962 and has updated its findings for a one-day conference today.

Since 1962, more than six million people have died as a result of smoking but at least 360,000 deaths have also been prevented owing to there being fewer smokers overall.

At today's meeting, the RCP will discuss further action for cutting the number of smokers.

It believes the cost of tobacco and cigarettes should be put up, arguing that although heavily taxed, cigarettes are still 50% more affordable now than they were in 1965.

Real prices are also undercut by discounting, small pack sizes and illegal supplies, it says.

The RCP wants "unnecessary" brand images for tobacco removed from films and TV programmes watched by children and young people, and supports a move towards plain packaging for tobacco.

Furthermore, it wants the smoking ban extended to parks and other public areas, while saying children should be legally protected from smoke in cars and homes, and there should be mass media campaigns on the dangers of smoking.

Nine out of 10 smokers do not use the NHS to help them quit so the RCP wants to reach those people with better services.

Professor John Britton, chair of the RCP tobacco advisory group, said: "Smoking is still the biggest avoidable killer in the UK. Smokers smoke because of an addiction to nicotine that is usually established before adulthood.

"There is so much more that can and should be done to prevent the death, disease and human misery that smoking causes.

"Our Government needs to act at the highest level to tackle smoking head on, and eradicate it from our society and particularly our children's futures."

Sir Richard Thompson, RCP president, said: "This important conference marks another milestone in the RCP's efforts to reduce unnecessary deaths and disease from smoking.

"I hope that in another 50 years smoking, like slavery, will have passed into history."

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health (Ash), said:

"There has been a seismic shift in attitudes to smoking since the early 1960s when the majority of adults smoked.

"However, one in five Britons still smokes and around 200,000 children start smoking every year.

"Although a great deal has been achieved, more still needs to be done, particularly to stop children getting hooked.

"Putting tobacco products out of sight in shops will help but we also need to stop the marketing of tobacco via the packs.

"Plain packaging of tobacco products is the logical next step to put an end to tobacco marketing and we look forward to the forthcoming Government consultation on this issue."

Simon Clark, director of the smokers' group Forest, said: "The authors of the first report on smoking and health were right to draw attention to the risks associated with smoking. Regrettably, since 1962 education has been replaced by coercion and smokers are now treated like lepers and vilified for their habit.

"Intolerance and scaremongering have replaced legitimate consumer information and common sense has given way to illiberal legislation designed to force people to give up a legal product.

"Adults have a right to make informed choices about smoking, eating and drinking.

"The 50th anniversary of the RCP report is an opportunity to remind politicians of their responsibilities in a liberal democratic society."