Lung cancer which has been one of the major causes of death in Scotland, could be virtually eradicated from Scotland in the next two decades according to the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Harry Burns.
According to Dr Harry Burns, "In the 1960s, one in 100 men died of lung cancer. Today, rates are falling all the time and, thanks to the smoking ban, I expect the reduction in deaths to accelerate until dying from the disease becomes rare."
He said that lung cancer cases would soon see a dramatic reduction to just a few hundred a year rather than 4,500 currently.
Launching his annual report into the state of the nation's health Dr Burns said, "Imagining Scotland with no lung cancer is not trivial speculation. In the 1960s, one in 100 men died of lung cancer. Today, rates are falling all the time and, thanks to the smoking ban, I expect the reduction in deaths to accelerate until dying from the disease becomes rare."
However lung cancer experts have dismissed his comments as "rubbish" and "over-optimistic".
Dr Mick Peake, chair of the UK Lung Cancer Coalition, said Firstly, not everyone will stop smoking, however much we would like them to. Secondly, around 15 per cent of lung cancers are not caused by smoking."
Mike Unger, chief executive of the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation said, "If everyone stopped smoking today, we would still have lung cancer for 25 to 30 years. Even if the ban on smoking in public places does help more people quit, we are likely to get a best-case scenario where still around 17 per cent of people smoke."
Dr Burns said that Scotland needed to keep the pressure on tackling tobacco use, not just to reduce lung cancer but also other illnesses such as heart disease, stroke and asthma.
He said, "The ban in public places is really, really important, but we need to continue to persuade people of the serious harm they are doing to their health by smoking, and we can get the smoking rate down even more.
"The notion of Scotland as a high tobacco-using country is one that can be changed. If Scots choose to turn their backs on tobacco, then there is no reason why we can't make lung cancer a relatively rare tumour again."
The annual report also noted other signs of improving health, including increased life expectancy, breastfeeding and immunisation rates and added that alcohol and obesity were now the main health concerns.
Currently Scotland leads with the highest death rate in Europe from cirrhosis of the liver among men. The number of people who have become overweight or are obese is also on the rise.
Dr Burns in his report Health in Scotland 2005 yesterday said that there was "little doubt" that alcohol consumption was still rising in Scotland. He reported that in 2004-5, over 31,000 people were admitted to hospital with an alcohol-related diagnosis - accounting for 4 per cent of all admissions.
The number of people diagnosed with alcohol-related liver disease rose by 52 per cent between 1997-98 and 2004-5. Further, it is estimated that 29 per cent of men and 17 per cent of women are exceeding recommended safe drinking levels.
Teenage drinking is also on the rise with 46 per cent of 15-year-olds girls reporting drinking in the past week in 2004, compared with 25 per cent in 1990.
Dr Burns said there should be continued debate about the best way of tackling Scotland's alcohol culture. However he did not comment on support for raising taxes or the age limit for alcohol purchases.
His report also highlighted the predicted rise in illnesses caused by obesity by 2023. About 65 per cent of men and 60 per cent of women in Scotland are either overweight or obese. Childhood obesity is also rising.
He said, the food, transport and leisure industries needed to work together to change eating and exercise habits. He said, "If we continue as we are, the prevalence of obesity in the population will continue to increase. Ultimately, this will see the return of children dying before their parents."