Background and objectives : Despite reductions in prevalence in recent years, tobacco smoking remains one of the main preventable causes of ill-health and premature death worldwide. This paper reviews the extent and nature of harms caused by smoking, the benefits of stopping, patterns of smoking, psychological, pharmacological and social factors that contribute to uptake and maintenance of smoking, the effectiveness of population and individual level interventions aimed at combatting tobacco smoking, and the effectiveness of methods used to reduce the harm caused by continued use of tobacco or nicotine in some form.
Results and conclusions : Smoking behaviour is maintained primarily by the positive and negative reinforcing properties of nicotine delivered rapidly in a way that is affordable and palatable, with the negative health consequences mostly being sufficiently uncertain and distant in time not to create sufficient immediate concern to deter the behaviour. Raising immediate concerns about smoking by tax increases, social marketing and brief advice from health professionals can increase the rate at which smokers try to stop. Providing behavioural and pharmacological support can improve the rate at which those quit attempts succeed. Implementing national programmes containing these components are effective in reducing tobacco smoking prevalence and reducing smoking-related death and disease.