Smoking has probably killed more people than Covid in the same time period, said Prof Chris Whitty while speaking on Public Health at Gresham College London, adding “this has put severe strain on hospital services.”
In a lecture on the future of health trends, the chief medical officer also alleged that a small number of companies were “killing people for their own profit”.
Prof Whitty said there had been almost no progress in fighting lung cancer so far. Smoking-related diseases killed around 90,000 people each year and even more than the pandemic, most of these deaths were avoidable, he said.
“Lung cancer is now the UK’s number one killer in cancer. Almost one in five people will die from this. Majority of the people who die of this cancer lose their lives because a small number of companies make profits from the ones who have become addicted in young age. This then keep them addicted to something which they know will kill them,” said Whitty.
The latest figures suggest that 14.1 per cent of the country’s adults smoke cigarettes, which is around 6.9 million people.
Prof Whitty’s comments came as the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) called for smokers to be given treatment to quit their habit unless they actively opt out.
In July 2019, the Government had announced its ambition for a “Smokefree 2030”, where the overall percentage of the population that smokes is five per cent or less. However, the RCP said this target may not be hit until after 2050, hence it suggested an opt-out system that could double the uptake of ‘quit smoking’ services.
Prof John Britton, a member of the RCP tobacco advisory group, said: “Smoking is entirely preventable, but ending smoking requires us to go even further with the more familiar prevention measures. Doing this will prevent countless deaths, dramatically reduce the burden placed by tobacco use on health services and wider society.”