A LAW to ban smoking in public places could save more lives more quickly than the development of a single new anti-cancer drug – according to Cancer Research UK.

Professor Alex Markham, the charity’s Chief Executive, argues that the single most important contribution to tackling cancer in the next decade is legislation to stub out smoking in the country’s pubs, restaurants and other enclosed workplaces.

Prof Markham sets out his argument in the charity’s new policy document, published today, called The Cancer Challenge: Agenda for Change.

He believes that a ban would not only protect workers in the hospitality industry but would also encourage people who smoke in pubs and clubs to give up. Surveys have shown that two-thirds of smokers want to quit.

Scientists estimate that a smoking ban would lead, overall, to almost 5000 lives being saved annually. It is estimated that non-smokers, exposed to smoke in the workplace, increase their lung cancer risk by up to 19 per cent. And new research suggests that second-hand smoke in the workplace causes about 700 deaths each year across the UK – including the death of 50 hospitality workers annually.

Prof Markham says: “Smoking kills 114,000 people every year in the UK and causes 90 per cent of lung cancers. We are committed to vigorous research to find the best ways to treat this disease. But second-hand smoke is also a real concern.

“I believe a single piece of legislation would be the most effective thing we could do to save lives when you compare it with the time and money it takes to develop a first-class drug.

“In a recent poll of more than 4,000 people four out of five said they would support a law to ensure enclosed workplaces are smoke-free.

“Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer, has reported that there would be no negative economic impact if a national ban were to be put in place. Health professionals throughout the country including the heads of 13 Royal Colleges believe, with Cancer Research UK, that everyone has the right to breathe clean air.”

The charity’s top 10 priorities for the next Government are outlined in the Agenda for Change document:

  • Implement a national ban on smoking in workplaces and enclosed public places without further delay.
  • Promote responsible food labelling and marketing, and place limits on the advertising of ‘junk’ foods.
  • Spend 1.5% of the total NHS budget on medical research across the UK.
  • Recruit and train sufficient manpower for cancer treatment and undertake an evaluation into the need for, and supply of, skilled personnel.
  • Protect the right of all patients to choose to take genetic tests free from the fear of future discrimination on genetic grounds.
  • Safeguard the future of publicly-funded research in universities and institutes through sustained investment in infrastructure.
  • Develop mechanisms, in partnership with research funders, to translate research findings into new treatments.
  • Collaborate more closely with the scientific community to ensure that increased regulation does not needlessly impede research.
  • Relieve the indirect tax burden of irrecoverable VAT, which currently affects charities disproportionately.
  • Implement a comprehensive and mandatory unclaimed assets register to enable charities to find assets originally intended for them.



According to the Office of National Statistics the majority of people in the UK support smoking restrictions in pubs (54%), restaurants (86%) and other enclosed public places (88%).

In late 2003, the London Health Commission conducted a poll on smoke free public places in London. More than three-quarters (78%) of the 34,446 Londoners who took part in the Big Smoke Debate said they would prefer enclosed public places in London to be completely smoke free.

A policy of creating smoke-free workplaces and public places would yield an overall net benefit to society of £2.3 billion to £2.7 billion annually, equivalent to treating 1.3-1.5 million hospital waiting list patients. (Chief Medical Officer’s Annual Report 2003)

Cancer Research UK is the largest volunteer-supported cancer research organisation in the world. It spends £213 million, raised almost entirely through public donations, on research programmes that support the work of 3,000 scientists in institutes, hospitals, universities and medical schools throughout the country.