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.

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