Making cigarettes less desirable is the most effective way of improving health in this country. The news that the Government is likely to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes is welcome. This means that packs will no longer carry the logo of the manufacturer but just warning pictures. Plain packaging has been shown to be effective in Australia at reducing the number of teenagers taking up smoking.
On average a smoker dies 10 years earlier than a non smoker. Most of the increase in life expectancy from 65 yrs to 80 yrs that has occurred between the 1960s to the present day has happened simply because in the 1960s nearly all men smoked. Of the extra 15 yrs life expectancy that has been added it is estimated that 10 yrs has been added just by people smoking less. Clever medical advances have only been responsible for about 5 out of those 15 years!
Public Health is concerned with the health of populations. It is an extremely important part of medicine. Public health measures, such as vaccination, smoking bans, minimum price alcohol and taxes can have a massive effect on a country’s health for very little cost [an actual monetary gain if a tax is imposed.]
Autonomy is an important principle in medical ethics. We have to respect the right of people to indulge in unhealthy habits that harm them. Each year 80,000 people die as a result of their smoking many more suffer from smoking related conditions which include conditions as varied as premature menopause and impotence as well as lung diseases Yet they make a free choice. Or do they? Cigarettes are highly addictive. It takes less than one pack to become hooked and the majority of smokers want to give up. They perhaps only make a free choice for those first few cigarettes. Do smokers make an informed choice? I do not think that people understand exactly how harmful it is. Smokers have a 50% chance of dying because of their habit. World wide,cigarettes kill more people that HIV or TB. Anything that makes it less attractive to start smoking is welcome.