The RCP produced its first report on tobacco Smoking and Health in 1962, launching six decades of action on tobacco control. At the time around 70% of men and 40% of women smoked.
This groundbreaking report with policy recommendations based on the research of Sir Richard Doll and Sir Austin Bradford Hill was the first of its kind by a medical organisation. It caused a media sensation and an ambivalent, even hostile response from some quarters of government, media and society.
In 1971 the RCP established Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) as a separate body to inform and educate the public about the dangers of smoking and to campaign on issues of tobacco control, with several RCP officers as ASH board members. Since then, ASH has been the focus for tobacco campaigning in the UK and has acted as the lynchpin for the UK’s variously-named tobacco alliances across five decades, bringing together a wide-ranging collective of UK organisations to effectively campaign on many aspects of tobacco control.
In 1997 the RCP established a new Tobacco Advisory Group (TAG) to re-activate its tobacco campaigning role. Its aim was to produce authoritative reports and play a larger part in the campaigning alliances, hosting media events, lobbying and providing experts for the media and parliamentary enquiries.
Since then the TAG has produced a dozen reports on tobacco and smoking, providing much of the evidence base for successful wider alliance campaigns. The subsequent changes to UK legislation have resulted in reductions in death and disease from tobacco, and the protection of millions of people from tobacco smoke. Signature reports include 2005’s Going smoke-free – the medical case for clean air in the home, at work and in public places which provided the evidence base for the UK ban on smoking in public places, and Nicotine without smoke: the case for tobacco harm reduction which made the case for the use of e-cigarettes, NRT and other non-tobacco nicotine products as a substitute for smoking.
The RCP continues to be an active member of the current alliance – the Smokefree Action Coalition (SFAC) and contributes medical, scientific and communications expertise where needed. Nearly 60 years after it first report, only 14.7% of the UK population smoke – a powerful testament to the globally-recognised success of the RCP’s work both singly and as part of the UK’s tobacco alliances over the course of five decades.