Beware tobacco industry smokescreens

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I write as a retired respiratory physician with more than 30 years’ experience specialising in chronic bronchitis, emphysema and lung cancer.

As someone who has seen first hand the human toll caused by smoking, I maintain an active interest in debates on tobacco and health, and am totally committed to trying to discourage young people from starting to smoke.

Please remember that half of all regular smokers will die prematurely of a disease caused by their smoking habit. Such facts should outweigh all commercial interests. While I have always been saddened by damage to health and to society caused by smoking, I cannot help but feel anger over the fierce opposition to change from those with a commercial interest in selling cigarettes.

I was therefore disturbed to see the letter from Mike Ridgeway (5 October), as “spokesman for six packaging companies”, claiming that introducing plain packaging for tobacco products would worsen “the spiralling problem of illicit tobacco”.

What puzzles me is that this flatly contradicts the figures produced by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), which says that illegal tobacco has been declining for years. I would ask Mr Ridgeway what information he has that is better than that held by HMRC and whether he would share his source with us.

Perhaps he might also explain why HMRC, which presumably should know, does not say that plain packaging would increase the problem of illicit tobacco.

Ever since the health problems caused by smoking became apparent in 1956, the industry has attempted to frustrate change by employing delaying tactics to divert health improvement.

Please remember those who have in the past suffered the consequences, those who suffer now, and let’s do everything we can to stop unnecessary illness in future.

James Friend MA, MB, FRCPE