Plain cigarette packaging could drive 300,000 Britons to quit smoking

Review by research organisation Cochrane suggests impact of UKs ban on branded packs could echo results seen in Australia

Plain cigarette cartons featuring large, graphic health warnings could persuade 300,000 people in the UK to quit smoking if the measure has the effect it had in Australia, scientists say.

Standardised cigarette packaging will be compulsory in the UK from 20 May. A new review from the independent health research organisation Cochrane on the impact of plain packaging around the world has found that it does affect the behaviour of smokers.

In the UK, the tobacco industry has become increasingly innovative in the design of cigarette packets as other controls on sales and advertising have taken hold, according to Ann McNeill, professor of tobacco addiction at Kings College London. The tobacco industry has been focusing its efforts on the tobacco packs, she said.

Among those that will be banned are vibrant pink packets, targeted at young women, and gimmicky cartons that slide rather than flip open. The rules that come into force next month require all packs to look alike, with graphic health warnings across 65% of their surface.

The Cochrane reviewers found 51 studies that looked at standardised packaging and its impact on smokers, but only one country had implemented the rule fully at the time. Australia brought in plain packs in 2012.

Analysing the evidence from Australia, the team found a reduction in smoking of 0.5% up to one year after the policy was introduced. According to the Australian government, that translates to 100,000 people no longer smoking. The decline was attributable specifically to plain packaging, after taking into account the continuing drop in the numbers of smokers caused by other tobacco control measures.

Dr Jamie Hartmann-Boyce of the Cochrane tobacco addiction group at Oxford Universitys Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences said: We are not able to say for sure what the impact would be in the UK, but if the same magnitude of decrease was seen in the UK as was observed in Australia, this would translate to roughly 300,000 fewer smokers following the implementation of standardised packaging.

The review found signs that more people were trying to quit smoking as a result of plain cartons, rising from 20.2% before to 26.6% after introduction. There was also evidence that standardised packs were less attractive to those who did not smoke, making it less likely that they would start.

However, the researchers say variations in the way countries are introducing standardised packs may affect the outcomes. Some allow different colours, slightly different carton shapes and the use of descriptive words such as gold or smooth.

Cancer Research UK backs plain packaging. Smoking kills 100,000 people in the UK every year, so we support any effective measure which can help reduce this devastating impact. The evidence shows that standardised packaging works and helps to reduce smoking rates, said George Butterworth, the charitys tobacco policy manager.

Its too soon to see the impact in the UK, as the new legislation will only be fully implemented in May, but we hope to see similar positive results as the UK strives towards a day when no child smokes tobacco. Cancer Research UK is continuing to evaluate the impact of standardised packaging in the UK and will share the lessons with other countries who are considering introducing them.

Simon Clark, director of the smokers group Forest, said the idea that plain packaging would have an impact on the number of smokers in the UK was based on hope and anecdotal evidence.

Since plain packaging was introduced in Australia, smoking rates have fallen, but only in line with historical trends, he said. Its grasping at straws to credit plain packaging with the continued reduction in smoking rates, because the most significant anti-smoking measure in recent years in Australia has been a massive increase in tobacco taxation. Like graphic health warnings, the novelty of plain packaging quickly wears off.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/apr/27/plain-cigarette-packaging-could-drive-300000-britons-to-quit-smoking

People whose ‘brain age’ is older than their real age more likely to die early

Scientists at Imperial College London used MRI scans and algorithms to produce computer-generated brain age and spot risk of dying young

Doctors may be able to warn patients if they are at risk of early death by analysing their brains, British scientists have discovered.

Those whose brains appeared older than their true age were more likely to die early and to be in worse physical and mental health, a study by Imperial College London found.

The research found a way of predicting someones brain age that could help to spot those at risk of dying young.

The study, piloted in Scotland, suggests using MRI scans to estimate a persons brain age compared with their real age could also help to spot who might be at increased risk of poor health as they grow older.

By combining MRI scans with machine learning algorithms, a team of neuroscientists trained computers to predict the age of a persons brain based on their volume of brain tissue.

When the technique was tested on a group of older adults in Scotland, they found that the greater the difference between the computer-generated brain age and the persons actual age, the higher their risk of poor mental and physical health and the more likely they were to die before they turned 80.

Those with a brain age older than their real age also had weaker grip, lower lung capacity and slower walking speed.

Researchers say that if the initial findings could be applied to a screening programme, the technique could be used to inform doctors, showing whether or not a patient had a healthy brain age or was above or below the line, similar to how body mass index (BMI) is used. They could then advise patients to change their lifestyle or start a course of treatment.

James Cole, a research associate who led the study, said: People use the age of an organ all the time to talk about health. Smokers are said to have lungs that are 20 years older than they should be, you can even answer online questionnaires about exercise and diet and get a heart age. This technique could eventually be like that.

However, it would need more fine-tuning for accuracy before it could be used in this way, Cole said. At present it has a margin of error of about five years. MRI scans are also currently too expensive to be used as a widespread screening tool but researchers hope that costs will come down in the future.

In the long run it would be great if we could do this accurately enough so that we could do it at an individual level, he said. However, at the moment, its not sufficiently accurate to be used at that sort of individual level.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/apr/26/people-whose-brain-age-is-older-than-their-real-age-more-likely-to-die-early

Two-thirds of people in Mexico, Chile and Ecuador are obese, UN finds

Study calls epidemic frightening and finds that overnutrition and sedentary lifestyles are costing countries tens of billions of dollars every year

More than two-thirds of people living in Mexico, Chile and Ecuador are overweight or obese, costing their economies tens of billions of dollars every year, driving rates of disease and straining health services, according to a new UN report.

While the number of hungry people in Latin America and the Caribbean has halved in the past 25 years, the region is now struggling to combat an obesity epidemic.

Changing diets, including more processed food that are high in salt, sugar and fat, along with more sedentary lifestyles have triggered a rising tide of obesity, experts say.

The implications for the future of countries are frightening … undernutrition is declining, but overnutrition is expected to become the largest social and economic burden in the region, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) said in a statement.

The report by the WFP and the UNs Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), said over the next six decades people being overweight and obese would cost Mexico an estimated $13bn a year, Ecuador $3bn and Chile $1bn.

Undernutrition, when people do not get enough food, and obesity itself a form of malnutrition are two sides of the same coin, and together they inflict a so-called double burden of disease on people and economies, the report said.

Undernutrition impairs child growth and brain development, while obesity can led to type 2 diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

We now witness a worrying trend among vulnerable communities with cases of undernourishment and overweight simultaneously within the same families, said Miguel Barreto, WFPs regional director said in a statement.

Both undernourishment and overweight represent a serious burden for the health of those families, that eventually translates into losses in productivity, and in pressure on the health and education systems in the country where they live.

According to the World Health Organisation, obesity is an epidemic worldwide, killing 2.8 million adults every year, and obesity-related conditions now cause more deaths than hunger.

In Latin America, obesity is increasingly affecting the regions poor, particularly women.

In Mexico, a country that faces one of the worlds most acute obesity crisis, 74% of women are obese or overweight compared with 70% of men, the report said.

The report urged food companies to play a greater role in combating obesity.

The food industry has the opportunity to ensure the production, availability and accessibility of healthier food products, it said.

Governments should also do more to promote exercise and health eating and place greater controls on food labelling.

The report noted Chiles efforts to combat obesity, including an 18% tax on sugary drinks introduced in 2014 one of the worlds highest along with laws that restrict the advertising of unhealthy foods targeting children.

In 2014, Mexico also introduced a 10% tax on fizzy drinks, and 2016 research by the British Medical Journal found that the sugar tax led to as much as a 12% reduction in sales during the first year it was implemented.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/apr/25/obesity-epidemic-latin-america-mexico-chile-ecuador-un-report

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