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The burning desire.

  • Taylor, Peter, 1942-
  • Videos

About this work


Cigarettes are the most lethal consumer product on the planet, killing more than five million annually. Yet despite health warnings and increased regulation, the number of young smokers in the UK has grown. Peter Taylor examines how powerful cigarette companies manipulate smokers, and is granted rare access to the world’s second-biggest tobacco company, British American Tobacco (BAT). Linda Bauld of the University of Stirling explains that the majority of smokers take up the habit before they reach 18. Every year in the UK 200,000 children aged 11-15 start smoking. Although the overall number of smokers has declined, rates among 25-34 year olds have increased in recent years. Ironically, government exchequers rely on tobacco revenue, which brings in almost double what the NHS spends on treating smoking-related diseases. BAT, who manufacture 700 billion cigarettes annually, were the only tobacco company willing to participate in the documentary. Taylor interviews the company’s Corporate Affairs Director, Kingsley Wheaton, querying their increasing profits in the face of legislation. Manchester teenagers discuss their reasons for taking up the habit, and Taylor meets an older couple who are suffering the health implications of a lifetime of smoking. At Nottingham University Hospital, Dr David Baldwin treats patients with smoking-related diseases daily. In 1962 the seminal Royal College of Physicians publication, ‘Smoking and Health’, reported that smoking killed 50,000 people annually in the UK. Today, that number has doubled. John Britton from the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies claims that the risks are greatest for society’s poor and disadvantaged. In footage from 1994, senior tobacco executives claim to US Congress that nicotine is not addictive. Fourteen years earlier, BAT’s Brazilian Director refused to acknowledge or deny that smoking kills. Today, the company takes a very different stance. Scientific Director David O’Reilly openly admits the links between smoking and life-limiting diseases. The company has set itself a new core strategy of 'harm reduction', developing a range of less harmful alternatives to conventional cigarettes. For decades the industry has fought bitterly against incremental marketing restrictions and taxation. Taylor travels to Australia to explore the industry’s last-ditch battle to prevent plain packaging. Former Australian Minister for Health Nicola Roxon recalls the industry’s tactics, which included ‘astroturfing’; the practice of lending grassroots credibility to the anti-legislation campaign by masking tobacco sponsorship. Although the impact of plain packaging is still under debate, other countries are poised to follow suit, including England and Wales. Paediatrician Sir Cyril Chantler advocates the introduction of plain packaging on the grounds that young people are particularly susceptible to branding. He claims that even small reductions in take-up rates will translate into thousands of lives saved. Ireland has paved the way in anti-smoking legislation, being the first country in the world to introduce a ban on smoking in public places. James Reilly, Ireland’s Minister for Health, discusses the industry’s attempts to obfuscate the process. Back in Australia, Taylor investigates illegal tobacco smuggling, which, according to BAT, has increased since the introduction of plain packaging. Similar arguments are being raised in the UK, but the figures are hotly contested. Trading Standards maintain that smuggling has decreased year on year, regardless of the tobacco industry’s claims to the contrary. JTI, who manufacture Benson and Hedges in the UK, are spending £400,000 on a shopkeeper training programme to reduce selling to children, a tactic some have criticised as a smokescreen for plain packaging.


UK : BBC2, 2014.

Physical description

1 DVD (60 min.) : sound, color


Broadcast on 29 May, 2014

Creator/production credits

Series produced and directed by Mike Rudin

Copyright note

BBC Productions 2014



  • English

Where to find it

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