Over the course of the 20th century, peoples' attitudes to smoking have changed dramatically. Film stars who smoked on screen, and advertising campaigns such as the Benson and Hedges pyramids and the 'Marlboro man' series have helped encourage tobacco smoking. Soldiers in the Second World War were even issued with cigarettes as an occasional treat.
However, just as the popularity of tobacco reached its height in the 1950s, scientists were uncovering health risks that linked smoking and passive smoking with cancer, bronchitis and heart disease. By the end of the century, as people's awareness of the dangers of smoking increased, cigarette advertising, along with cigarette girls and tobacconists, had all but disappeared.
According to the 2001 census, British men smoke more cigarettes than British women do. People in London smoke more than people in the rest of the United Kingdom, and people generally smoke more when they are younger.
- 1951 Richard Doll and Austin Bradford Hill conduct the first large-scale study of the link between smoking and lung cancer.
- 1954 Doll and his team publish a paper confirming the link.
- 1962 The Royal College of Physicians report concludes that smoking is a cause of lung cancer and bronchitis, and probably contributes to coronary heart disease. It recommends tougher laws on cigarette sales and advertising, and on smoking in public places.
- 1965 The British government bans cigarette advertising on television.
- 1971 Government health warnings become mandatory on all cigarette packets sold in the United Kingdom, following an agreement between the government and the tobacco industry.
- 1976 Richard Doll and Richard Peto publish the results of a 20-year study of smokers, and conclude that one in three dies from the habit.
- 1983 The Latest Royal College of Physicians report features passive smoking for the first time. It also asserts that more than 100,000 people die every year in the United Kingdom from smoking-related illness.
- 1984 Smoking is banned on London Underground trains.
- 1987 The London Underground smoking ban is extended to the entire network following the King's Cross station fire in which 31 people died.
- June 1988 A United States court awards damages against a tobacco firm to the family of a woman who died of lung cancer.
- 1989 A United Kingdom court rules that injury caused by passive smoking can be an industrial accident.
- 1992 The first nicotine skin patch is available on prescription in the United Kingdom.
- 1993 Richard Doll's latest study results suggest that smokers are three times more likely to die in middle age than non-smokers, and up to half of all smokers may eventually die from their habit.
- May 1997 The Labour government pledges to ban tobacco advertising.
- June 1997 United States tobacco firms agree a multi-billion-dollar settlement to cover healthcare costs incurred by treating people with smoking-related illnesses, in return for halting multi-action lawsuits and limiting claims for individuals.
- 1997 The government calls for Formula One to be exempt from the proposed European Union directive on tobacco advertising and sponsorship, but backs down in the face of widespread criticism that this threatens the entire directive.
- March 1998 The government-appointed Scientific Committee on Tobacco and Health says passive smoking is a cause of lung cancer and heart disease in adults.
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