WMA : Letter sent to the British Prime Minister

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The following letter has been sent to the British Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair, by Dr James Appleyard, President of the World Medical Association.

The Rt Hon Tony Blair MP
Prime Minister
10 Downing Street

26th July 2004

Dear Prime Minister

Smoke-free public places and young people

I write to ask that you act immediately to make all public places in the UK smoke-free by law. Such action would protect children in the UK from its serious and long lasting effects. Tobacco smoke is a lethal cocktail of more than 4000 chemicals, and causes lung cancer and heart disease in adults. And just as smoking kills, passive smoking kills.

The World Health Organisation places second-hand smoke in the same category as hazards such as asbestos and benzene. No safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke has been identified. Non-smoking areas allow toxins to drift through the air, and ventilation cannot protect against the health risks of passive smoking.

The World Medical Association, like the WHO, have emphasised that the only proven means of protecting the public's health is to banish tobacco smoke from indoor public places.

As a paediatrician, I know that, not only are children's lungs less well-developed than adults, children breathe faster, and inhale a greater dose of toxins for their body weight. Passive smoking increases the risk of many common childhood illnesses, including lung and ear infections. The World Health Organisation states that second-hand smoke can cause asthma in children, and increase the severity of attacks in those already affected.

Pregnant women, people with existing heart disease, and those with asthma and other respiratory disorders are also vulnerable. The British Medical Association estimates that each year in the UK, at least 1200 low birth-weight babies are born as the result of their non-smoking mothers being exposed to tobacco smoke in the workplace. Low-birth weight is closely linked to illness and death in infancy.

Smoke-free public places protect non-smokers from second-hand smoke. They also help smokers who wish to stop, making it more likely that they will succeed. When smoking rates among adults fall, so does children's exposure to second-hand smoke. Children whose parents do not smoke are less likely to become smokers themselves. Smoke-free public places may also reduce the risk of young people taking up smoking.

The burden of smoking in the UK falls most heavily on the poor and most deprived families. Indeed, among the most vulnerable, smoking rates have hardly changed over the last 20 years. Smoke-free public places have enormous potential to free our poorest communities from the blight of tobacco-related illness. National legislation is needed to ensure that the benefits are shared by all.

While our neighbours in Ireland have seen smoking rates drop four percentage points in just four years, rates in the UK remain worryingly static, and are even increasing among girls and young women. With the introduction of the new smoke-free workplaces law in Ireland, the UK is sure to fall even further behind. Norway has similar legislation, and Sweden and New Zealand will follow within the year.

There can be no doubt that the powerful commercial forces that continue to shape the worldwide tobacco epidemic will argue against a ban in order to maintain their profits. For doctors worldwide, more tobacco simply means more illness, more suffering and more death.

What the UK's children need now is your political courage and leadership - and your backing for smoke-free public places.

I appeal to you to act now to introduce UK-wide legislation to banish smoke from indoor public places. The result will be a healthier environment for all, and a brighter future for the UK's children.

James Appleyard MA (Oxon) MD (Kent) FRCP (Lon) MRCS (Eng) FRCPCH (UK)
President of the World Medical Association.

For further details you can contact:

  • Dr James Appleyard :
    +44 (0) 1227 781771 (home)
    +44 (0) 773 468 2467 (mobile)
  • Nigel Duncan: WMA Public Relations Consultant
    +44 (0) 20 8997 3653
    +44 (0) 7984 944 403 (mobile)
    nduncan@ndcommunications.co.uk (e-mail)