Doctors: Quitting Smoking Can Halve Tobacco Deaths
LONDON (Reuters) - Quitting smoking has halved the number of British lung cancer deaths and started a similar U.S. trend but one billion people will die in the 21st century if current smoking trends continue, doctors warned Wednesday.
Premature deaths from smoking are decreasing in some developed countries as people become more aware of the dangers but in many poorer nations the number of deaths from tobacco are rising and will continue to soar as the population ages and continues to smoke.
``The message is that at any age it actually pays to stop,'' said Professor Richard Peto, of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund.
``Tobacco deaths over the next 50 years will be affected much more by the number of adults who manage to stop than by the number of adolescents who start smoking,'' the British epidemiologist added in a telephone interview.
It is important to prevent young people from taking up the habit but it will not reduce the number of tobacco-related deaths over the next several decades.
Britain had the worst lung cancer death rates in the world in the 1950s but it has experienced the biggest decrease since then because so many smokers have quit.
Today in Britain there are twice as many ex-smokers over 50 as there are smokers. But smoking is still the biggest cause of early death.
``We've got 12 million smokers in Britain. Six million of them will be killed by tobacco unless they stop. The only way we can do anything about those six million deaths is by getting adults who smoke to choose to stop,'' he added.
In the United States where 50 million people smoke, 25 million will die from smoking if they can't kick the habit.
With 1.1 billion smokers worldwide the number of potential tobacco-related deaths is staggering.
``On present smoking patterns there will be about 150 million tobacco deaths in the first 25 years of this century and 300 million in the second quarter. Most of those who will be killed by tobacco in the first half of this century have already begun to smoke,'' according to Peto.
The alarming figures are borne out by new research published in the British Medical Journal by Peto and Sir Richard Doll, the man who identified the link between smoking and lung cancer in Britain in 1950.
``Our 1950 study showed that smoking was a cause of most of the lung cancer in Britain at the time, and our new study shows that widespread cessation of smoking has halved the number of lung cancer deaths that would otherwise be occurring in Britain in the year 2000,'' Doll said in a statement.
The research assessed the effect of prolonged cessation of smoking. Most tobacco-related deaths occur decades after a person takes up the habit.
The study showed that among men who continue to smoke, 16 percent will die of lung cancer before the age of 75. But for men who stop at the age of 50 years the risk is only six percent and for those who quit at 30 the risk drops to two percent.
``There have been six million deaths from tobacco in Britain over the past 50 years, of which three million were deaths in middle age (35-69). Those killed by tobacco in middle age lost, on average, more than 20 years of life,'' Doll added.