A prominent British medical journal is calling for the government to outlaw the possession of tobacco as the best way to curb deaths due to smoking-related illnesses.
The challenge was issued in an editorial in Friday's edition of the Lancet, one of Britain's leading medical publications.
It said the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair should outlaw tobacco in order to drastically cut the number of smokers.
The deputy editor of the Lancet, Astrid James, told British radio the proposal should not be dismissed as too radical.
"I think the government has shown that it has introduced legislation on other issues," she said. "For example, on Monday it introduced legislation to ban the use mobile phones while driving. That in the face of 20 deaths over five years. We are talking about 120,000 deaths a year."
The chief executive of the Tobacco Manufacturers Association, Tim Lord, said smokers are well aware of the risks and should be free to make their own choices.
"There is not an individual in this country who does not know the health risk associated with smoking," he said. "Fifteen million people choose to smoke. That's 26, 27 percent of the adult population."
The government health ministry had no immediate comment on the Lancet proposal. Nor has the government responded to a call last week from the Royal College of Physicians to ban smoking in public places.
Economists say the government would suffer a big revenue loss if tobacco were outlawed. Britain takes in about $16.5 billion a year in tobacco taxes, while it spends a little more than $2.5 billion on health care for ailing smokers.