Subject archives guide - Smoking

Our subject guides on a range of child health topics are for researchers interested in child health and the history of paediatrics. Smoking is one of the biggest causes of death and illness in the UK.
Last modified
25 August 2023


Smoking is the biggest cause of death and illness in the UK. Smokers are almost two times as likely to have a heart attacked compared with non-smokers1  and increase their risk of having over 50 health conditions. Smoking is the most preventable cause of cancer.2


Smoking can increase the risk of developing or actively cause cancers, including lung, mouth, throat, breast, liver and kidney cancers. It damages the heart and can lead to coronary heart disease, heart attacks and strokes. It can also cause lung and respiratory disorders such as bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma and pneumonia. Smoking can lead to impotence and reduce fertility in both men and women.3


Second hand smoke also impacts health. It contributes to and causes a number of illnesses and disease.4  To protect those who do not smoke, legislation and regulations have been brought in.

In July 2007, legislation made it illegal to smoking in all enclosed public places and workspaces in the UK. In 2015, it became an offence to smoke in a vehicle when children are present.

Children and smoking

Smoking during pregnancy affects both the mother and unborn baby’s health. It increases the risk of complications, including miscarriage, premature birth, stillbirth and the baby having a low birth weight.5

Smoking and second hand smoke is especially bad for children’s health. Children are at a higher risk of respiratory infections, asthmas, bacterial meningitis and cot death. 6

Despite it being illegal to sell tobacco or e-cigarettes to under-18s, two thirds of smokers start before the age of 18.7  However, smoking in children and teenagers is decreasing every year, suggesting tobacco control policies designed to protect children are effective.8

Relevant records held at RCPCH

  • Smoking Laws (2008-2011)
    Ref: RCPCH/011/003/345Reports and correspondence relating to advertising, taxation and bans on smoking and tobacco products, and press cuttings and journal articles.
  • Correspondence of the Academic Board (1986)
    Ref: RCPCH/003/001/002/005Correspondence relating to matters of the Academic Board including an exhibition of children's posters about health education and smoking.
  • Comments on ‘Smoking for Health’ (1976)
    Ref: RCPCH/003/025/003/001Comments on a publication from Royal College of Physicians of London on 'Smoking for Health', from minutes of the Executive Committee.
  • Doctors for Tobacco Law (1991)
    Ref: RCPCH/004/010/061Update to BPA Council on Doctors for Tobacco Law regarding banning advertising and promotion of tobacco.