Smoking wipes average 10 years off life
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Smoking wipes 10 years off a life
14:18 22 June 04
NewScientist.com news service
Smoking wipes 10 years off a person's life on average, according to the longest ever study of smokers, but giving up at any age brings huge benefits.
Quitting at 30 virtually eliminates the risk from dying prematurely, and giving up at 50 halves it. But half of those who fail to kick the habit will die as a result of smoking, and a quarter of all smokers die in middle-age.
The results come from a 50-year update of the landmark 1954 paper which first linked smoking with lung cancer. One author of the update, published in the British Medical Journal, is Oxford University epidemiologist Richard Doll, now 91, who was a co-author of the original paper.
By following the fate of the original 34,439 male British doctors recruited for the study in the 1950s, the update has yielded fresh insights into how smoking affects survival to middle age and beyond.
“Now, we have the lifelong story, and that’s never been available before,” says Richard Peto, professor of medical statistics and epidemiology at the University of Oxford and lead author of the update. “The bad news is that smoking is even better than we thought at killing people. The good news is that stopping smoking gives you more extra years of life than we thought.”
The gains are substantial. Stopping at ages 60, 50, 40 or 30 buys you, respectively, 3, 6, 9 or 10 years of life expectancy that would otherwise be lost to smoking-related disease.
Peto said the new study emphasised the value of giving up even relatively late in life. “You often hear people say: ‘I’m 40 now, so it’s not worth giving up'." But stopping really does work – giving up at 40 means that just one year of life is lost on average, instead of 10.
“If you enjoy life like I do, it’s damn silly to smoke because you won’t get so much of it,” says Doll, who himself quit at the age of 37.
The new data show the huge impact of smoking on middle-age deaths and the way that it destroys rapid gains in health enjoyed by the non-smoking population.
A third of non-smokers born around 1915 now live to between 70 and 90, for example, compared with just seven per cent of smokers born around the same time.
This generation was the hardest hit by smoking because many were introduced to free cigarettes in their late teens when conscripted to fight in the Second World War. Many continued smoking heavily, and this is borne out in the latest data.
Of the smokers in the study from earlier generations who never smoked regularly, 85 per cent reached the age of 70, for example. Yet only 57 per cent of the “conscript generation" made it to this age.
Peto says that in the half-century since Doll’s landmark paper, smoking has claimed around six million British lives. But smoking is now most popular in developing countries.
“There are 30 million new smokers each year worldwide,” says Peto. “Worldwide, tobacco will soon be causing six million deaths each year.”