Cancers associated with smoking are caused “almost entirely for profit”, England’s chief medical officer has said.
In a lecture to Gresham College, Professor Chris Whitty said that there had been “almost no improvement” in lung cancer mortality over time and that it was a “largely preventable” cancer.
More people could die this year from smoking than Covid-19, he said.
He also raised concern about “slow” advances in medical science for dementia.
Prof Whitty said: “This is now the UK’s number one killer from cancer – over one in five people who die from cancer will die from this.
“And the reason that people like me get very concerned and very upset about it is that this cancer is almost entirely caused for profit.
“The great majority but who die of this cancer, not all, die so that a small number of companies make profits from the people who they have addicted in young ages, and then keep addicted to something which they know will kill them.
“So lung cancer is unfortunately still a very major problem.”
He said that smoking is also associated to other illnesses and is responsible for 90,000 deaths and 500,000 hospital admissions every year in the UK.
“And the standard estimates are that over 90,000 deaths occur every year,” he said.
“So, it is likely that by the end of this year, that at least as many and probably more people will have died of smoking related disease than of Covid.”
During the lecture, which on trends in health in the UK, Prof Whitty also raised concerns about the speed of advances in medical science for dementia.
“Here is an area where medical science has moved really very slowly,” he said.
Meanwhile, Prof Whitty also said that more needed to be done to address the issue of people having multiple complex health needs.
He said that the system is currently geared up to deal with singular problems but more needed to be done to accommodate people with more than one health issue.
Prof Whitty, who is also the Gresham professor of physic, added: “This a major problem because the way in which health care is taught the way medical science is delivered.
“And importantly, the way that health care is provided in the NHS and elsewhere, is that people think about single diseases – you go to a diabetes clinic; you go to a stroke clinic – but actually many people have got multiple different diseases.
“I think the medical profession in particular needs us to look at this really very seriously, and think ‘how do we redesign science and redesign the medical system around the fact that an increasingly large proportion of the people we see will either have no disease at all or multiple diseases’?”.
Prof Whitty also said that healthcare spending was “real threat to the health service over time”.
He said that if money was ineffectively allocated then people would end up having worse outcomes.