- Tobacco kills a half of all smokers,
- Smoking could eventually kill a third
of all young Chinese men if nothing is done to get them to drop the habit,
according to the largest ever survey of tobacco use.
- Two landmark studies involving 1.25m
Chinese people show that China has the largest number of smoking-related
deaths in the world.
- Because of a sharp increase in cigarette
sales in the last 30 years, around 2,000 people a day are currently dying
of smoking in China.
- By 2050, the researchers expect this
number could rise to 8,000 a day - some three million people a year.
- The research - compiled by Chinese, British
and American scientists - is the first nationwide research into the effects
of tobacco in a developing country.
- Different ways of dying
- In the West, smoking causes a high number
of heart-related deaths, but in China, the majority of deaths are due to
respiratory diseases, including tuberculosis.
- Dr Alan Lopez of the World Health Organisation,
told a news conference in London: "In the West, cigarettes cause lots
of heart attack deaths, while in China smoking causes unexpectedly large
numbers of deaths from tuberculosis, emphysema, stomach cancer and liver
- "Worldwide, the only really big
causes of premature death that are growing rapidly are HIV and tobacco."
- Nearly three-quarters of all Chinese
men are smokers.
- Average daily consumption rose from one
cigarette in 1952 to 10 in 1992, but appears to have stabilised now.
- Half die of smoking
- The two studies are the result of a long-term
international collaboration between Oxford University, the Chinese Academies
of Preventive Medicine and of Medical Sciences in Beijing and Cornell University
in the US.
- For the first, researchers interviewed
the families of one million people who had died in 24 cities and 74 rural
counties to establish if the dead person had smoked.
- The second study is ongoing and is looking
at quarter of a million men aged over 40.
- It is recording the mortality and causes
of death of these men over a 30-year period through annual monitoring,
taking into account diet, blood pressure, drinking and other factors.
- Five years of the study have so far been
completed, but the findings fit with those in the retrospective study -
that tobacco kills half of all smokers.
- The researchers say men aged 35 to 69
- 51% more likely to die from cancer than
average, 31% more likely to die from respiratory deaths at a 15% higher
risk of dying from vascular diseases.
- In older men, there was a greater danger
of dying from respiratory disease.
- Few women smoke in China and, unlike
with men, the number is falling. No-one knows why, but Dr Zhengming Chen
of Oxford University suggested it could be due to China's recent history
and social development.
- Causes of death
- Smokers who got hooked young were most
likely to die prematurely.
- The researchers say 12% of all adult
male deaths and 3% of all adult female deaths in China are now caused by
- But they say this reflects past smoking
- "On present smoking patterns, the
death rates of smokers will become double those of non-smokers of the same
age, suggesting that about half of today's young smokers will eventually
be killed by tobacco," say the studies, which are published in the
British Medical Journal.
- Jeffrey Koplan, director of the US Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention, said the tragedy was that the deaths
were "entirely preventable".
- Speaking in London, Professor Richard
Peto of Oxford University says if cigarette consumption could be halved
by 2020, 25 million deaths could be prevented in the first quarter of the
- Surveys showed two-thirds of Chinese
people think smoking does little or no harm.
- Dr Zhengming said the increase in tobacco
consumption did not seem to be due to promotion by tobacco companies since
it had been rising since the 1970s - in much the same way as US rates rose
between 1910 and 1950.
- He said smokers were also switching more
to cigarettes from traditional methods of smoking such as pipes which have
lower death rates.
- "China still has a long way to go
to educate the public about the risks of smoking," he said.
- But he added that, despite Chinese health
officials' backing for efforts to reduce tobacco consumption, treasury
officials might find it difficult to say no to the huge revenue they can
reap from the cigarette industry.