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Every 15 cigarettes smoked causes a genetic mutation, says Department of Health

14 January 2013

By Emma Stoye

Appeared in BioNews 688

The Department of Health has launched an advertisement campaign aiming to highlight the unseen damage caused by smoking.

'Hard hitting campaigns such as this illustrate the damage caused by smoking and this can encourage people to quit or may even stop them from starting in the first place', said Dr Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, who is backing the campaign.

The TV commercial, which will be shown throughout January, shows a tumour growing out of a lit cigarette. It states that every 15 cigarettes smoked will cause a genetic mutation that may lead to cancer.

The underlying science comes from studies carried out in 2009 at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge. Researchers sequenced the DNA of tumour samples taken from lung cancer patients to determine the number of mutations present. These sequences were compared to those in normal tissue samples from these patients. More than 23,000 mutations were found in the cancer genome – approximately one for every 15 cigarettes smoked.

The £2.7 million campaign is part of a nationwide crackdown on smoking, which costs the NHS an estimated £2.7 billion every year. Other initiatives in recent years include a ban on tobacco vending machines in licensed premises, and a rise in the legal age of smoking from 16 to 18, as well as Stoptober – a mass quit attempt which saw over 270,000 people signing up to quit smoking.

The last 'shock advert' used in an anti-smoking campaign, the 'fatty cigarette' ad released by the British Heart Foundation, was eight years ago. Since then an estimated three million people have been admitted to hospital with a smoking-related illness, according to the NHS Information Centre. The Department of Health states that over a third of smokers still think the health risks are exaggerated.

'It is extremely worrying that people still underestimate the serious health harms associated with smoking', said UK Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies.

It is hoped that knowing every pack of cigarettes could potentially lead to a cancer-causing genetic mutation will encourage more smokers to quit, particularly young people who do not remember the graphic imagery from previous campaigns.

'Tobacco is a lethal product and smoking is the single biggest preventable cause of cancer', said Dr Kumar. 'We have got to reduce the impact that tobacco has on the lives of far too many people – it's not a "lifestyle choice", it's an addiction that creeps into people's lives and results in death and disease'.

Times | 28 December 2012
BBC News | 28 December 2012
Department of Health (press release) | 28 December 2012
Cancer Research UK | 04 January 2013


28 September 2015 - by Antony Blackburn-Starza 
Health and genetic data from the UK Biobank has revealed new genetic associations between smoking and lung cancer, including five areas of DNA for the first time associated with heavy smoking.
15 September 2014 - by Antony Blackburn-Starza 
Scientists have shown that minimal genetic changes can be detected in vapour containing cells engineered to replicate early stage lung cancer....
04 November 2013 - by Dr Sarah Spain 
Two recent studies have shown how treatments for lung cancer can be tailored to a tumour's genetic make-up, which may ultimately improve existing treatments or even help to identify new ones...

25 July 2011 - by Rosemary Paxman 
Passive smoking may harm the DNA in sperm, a new study in mice has suggested. If the findings are replicated in humans, genetic defects linked to passive smoking could be passed on to children, the researchers advise....
24 January 2011 - by Maren Urner 
A team of US scientists has studied the immediate consequences of cigarette smoking in humans and found cigarette smoke potentially affects genes within a timescale of minutes....
13 September 2010 - by Seil Collins 
Two new studies have revealed further evidence of the harmful effect of smoking on both male and female fertility...
24 August 2009 - by Lorna Stewart 
Lung cancer is currently the leading cause of cancer death in the UK. Although smoking is responsible for the vast majority of lung cancer cases, there is existing evidence for a genetic component as well. A study published last week in the journal Cancer Research sheds new light on genetic vulnerability to lung cancer....
05 January 2009 - by Ailsa Stevens 
Individuals with alterations in ABCB1 and ABCC1, two genes thought to be involved in getting rid of inhaled toxins from the lungs, may have an increased risk of developing lung cancer, according to a new study published in the journal Cancer. The research, carried out by Chinese...

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