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

14 January 2013
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'.

Every 15 cigarettes will cause a genetic mutation, smokers told
Times |  28 December 2012
Graphic anti-smoking ad launched
BBC News |  28 December 2012
Hidden dangers highlighted in new smoking campaign
Department of Health (press release) |  28 December 2012
TV advert reveals invisible damage done by smoking
Cancer Research UK |  4 January 2013
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