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World: Smoking Halves Mens' Chances Of Reaching 70

  • Stuart Parrott

London, 15 October 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Men who smoke throughout their lives have only half the chance of surviving into their 70s as non-smokers, says a new British study.

The study followed the health of 7,700 men for 15 years. It found that those who started smoking by the age of 20 and continued throughout their lives had only a 42 percent chance of being alive at the age of 73. Those who had never smoked had a 78 percent chance.

The study, published in the "British Medical Journal," is part of a long-term research project sponsored by the British Heart Foundation, an agency which works to promote a more healthy lifestyle. It is the first study ever of the impact of tobacco on the survival of British men.

The researchers monitored the medical history of 7,735 men from 24 towns. All were aged 40 to 59 when the study began in 1978. More than three-quarters had smoked at some time in their life and the average age at which they smoked their first cigarette was 16.

By the end of the study in December, 1993, 560 lifelong smokers and 127 lifelong non-smokers had died. Causes of death potentially related to smoking include heart disease and lung disease, and cancer of the mouth, throat, pancreas, respiratory and urinary systems.

Dr. Andrew Philips, of the Royal Free Hospital, London, who led the research team, said the new data on mortality rates would help people -- particularly the young -- understand the dangers of smoking.

"We all know smoking kills, but our work will allow health professionals to convey the dangers of smoking in a way which people can identify," he said.

Britain is an international leader of scientific research into the dangers of tobacco use, and the latest study is likely to be used by healthcare professionals worldwide in a bid to combat smoking.

A classic study of 12 countries in the 1980s found the Eastern and Central European countries were among those with the highest lung cancer death rates. The study, which dealt with men aged 65 to 74, was made by Sir Richard Doll, of the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford. He was credited as the first scientist to prove the link between lung cancer and smoking.

In the 1980s, he found that England and Wales took first place in death rates from lung cancer (661 per 100,000) while the Netherlands was second (641 per 100,000). Third was Czechoslovakia (466), fourth was Hungary (428), fifth, the United States (411), and sixth, Poland (404).

Figures for death rates from lung cancer among women aged 69 to 74 from the same 12 countries suggested that women in Hong Kong, England, Wales and the United States smoked the most. Hungary was fifth in this table, Poland seventh and Czechoslovakia was eighth.

The Doll report said that smoking was responsible for 90 percent of lung cancers and some 50 percent of bladder and renal pelvis cancers. It said that smoking was to blame for a large proportion of oral, laryngeal and esophageal cancers, regardless of whether tobacco had been smoked in the form of cigarettes, pipes or cigars. It also said that research showed that smoking habits early in life greatly influenced the risk of dying from cancer 40 or 50 years later on.

Analysts say that the latest British study, warning that smoking halves the chance of making the age of 70, reinforces the classic Doll report and drives home the message to smokers: Give up immediately. Specialists also say that smokers and ex-smokers should follow a diet with lots of green and yellow vegetables to cut down the cancer risk.

Professor John Moxham, of the British Thoracic Society, said this week that lifelong smokers face a reduced life expectancy, but quitting the habit at any time will help improve the quality and length of life.