Press release

Stop the rot: new campaign highlights how cigarettes ‘rot’ the body from the inside

New research reveals that poisons in tobacco smoke break down the body’s main systems, damaging bones, muscles, brain, teeth and eyes.

Today (29 December 2014), Public Health England (PHE) launches a powerful new campaign to highlight how smoking damages the body and causes a slow and steady decline in a process similar to rotting.

The campaign starts as a new expert review commissioned by Public Health England highlights the multiple impacts that toxic ingredients in cigarettes can have on your body. While many smokers know that smoking causes cancer and harms the lungs and heart, the new report highlights how it also damages:

  • bones and muscles: smoking has a negative impact on bone mineral density, and causes progressive harm to the musculoskeletal system, including:
    • 25% increased risk of any fracture, and a 40% increase in the risk of hip fractures among men
    • slower healing after injury
    • increased risk of back and neck pain, leading to a 79% increase in chronic back pain, and a 114% increase in disabling lower back pain
    • rheumatoid arthritis, and a reduction in the impact of treatment
  • brain: current smokers are 53% more likely to develop cognitive impairment than non-smokers, and 59% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease

  • teeth: smoking increases the likelihood of tooth loss and decay

  • eyes: smoking damages sight by increasing the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) by 78% to 358%, and increasing the risk of age-related cataracts

With New Year’s resolutions approaching and two-thirds of smokers saying they want to quit, new adverts are being used to graphically illustrate the degeneration that smoking causes.

The campaign also tackles common misconceptions around hand-rolled tobacco, or roll-ups. Use of roll-ups has increased significantly. In 1990, 18% of male smokers and 2% of female smokers said they smoked mainly hand-rolled cigarettes, but by 2013 this had risen to 40% for men and 23% for women. New figures show that half of smokers (49%) who only smoke roll-ups wrongly believe they are less harmful than manufactured cigarettes. In fact, hand-rolled cigarettes are at least as hazardous as any other type of cigarette.

Professor Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer, comments:

Whilst many smokers know the damage cigarettes do to their hearts and lungs, they are much less likely to be aware of how harmful smoking is to the body - essentially ‘rotting’ it from the inside out, and roll-ups are no exception.

January is a time when many people make New Year’s resolutions to improve their health and try to stop smoking. Millions of people have used Smokefree support and we are hoping that this year, even more will take advantage of the free expertise and resources on offer.

Professor Kevin Fenton, National Director for Health and Wellbeing for Public Health England, added:

Much of the harm caused by smoking doesn’t become obvious until middle age but the invisible damage can start shockingly early, even by the late teens. The earlier a smoker quits the better, but quitting at any age can help reverse at least some of the damage. That’s why there is no time better than now to quit. Stop smoking and stop the rot.

Digital and print billboards will feature a roll-up cigarette full of decaying tissue, whilst an online viral will see a father casually rolling up a cigarette formed of rotting human flesh, all bringing to life the fact that: ‘every cigarette rots you from the inside out’. This will be joined by the ‘Mutations’ and ‘Toxic Cycle’ adverts used in previous campaigns. These campaigns have helped smoking rates in England fall to an all time low this year of 18.4%, and Public Health England will be continuing to help any smoker wishing to make a quit attempt in 2015 with a range of free and proven support tools.

Smokers looking to quit are being encouraged to search for ‘Smokefree’ online, or visit NHS Smokefree for the full range of free tools and support.


  1. Public Health England exists to protect and improve the nation’s health and wellbeing, and reduce health inequalities. It does this through world-class science, knowledge and intelligence, advocacy, partnerships and the delivery of specialist public health services. PHE is an operationally autonomous executive agency of the Department of Health. Follow us on Twitter: @PHE_uk and Facebook:
  2. While smoking rates have declined over past decades, smoking is still the biggest cause of preventable illness and premature death in the country, accounting for almost 80,000 deaths in England a year. One in every two long-term smokers will die prematurely from a smoking related disease unless they quit.

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