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Updated: February 5, 2013 18:25 IST

Stub out and live longer

Aarti Dhar
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No smoking: Higher taxes and public campaigns needed.
No smoking: Higher taxes and public campaigns needed.

People who quit smoking before turning 40 years can regain almost a decade of their life lost due to smoking, says a new study

Smokers who quit when they are young adults can live almost as long as people who never smoked, a new research has found.

Smoking cuts at least 10 years off a person’s lifespan. But a comprehensive analysis of health and death records in the U.S. found that people who quit smoking before they turn 40 regain almost all of those lost years.

According to the findings, published in the new England Journal of Medicine, people who quit smoking between ages 35 years and 44 years gained about nine years and those who quit between ages 45-54 years and 55-64 years gained six and four years of life respectively.

“Quitting smoking before age 40, and preferably well before 40, gives back almost all of the decade of lost life from continued smoking,” said Professor Prabhat Jha, head of the Centre for Global Health Research at St. Michael’s Hospital who headed the research team.

That is not to say, however, that it is safe to smoke until you are 40 and then stop, warned Professor Jha. “Former smokers still have a greater risk of dying sooner than people who never smoked. But the risk is small compared to the huge risk for those who continue to smoke.”

While about 40 million Americans smoke, most of the world’s estimated 1.3 billion smokers live in low and middle-income countries (including about 300 million in China and 110 million in India). Worldwide about 30 million young adults begin smoking each year (about half of all young men and 10 per cent of young women) and most do not quit.

In many high-income countries, more than half of the people who ever smoked have quit. According to current trends, smoking will kill about one billion people in the 21st century as opposed to ‘only’ 100 million in the 20th century.

Nobel laureate economist Professor Amartya Sen said: “The inability to develop an appropriate public policy about smoking has been one of the bigger failures of public action in India, China and most other developing countries, in contrast to strong tobacco control in most western countries.”

“This study brings out how great the threat actually is, and shows that risks of death from smoking are even larger than previously thought,” said Professor Sen, who was not involved in the study. “The result is of great global significance.”

Professor Jha noted that smoking rates in the U.S., China and India would decline much faster if their governments levied high taxes on tobacco, as seen in Canada and France. For example, the government of Philippines raised taxes recently on cigarettes. Taxation is the single-most effective step to get adults to quit and to prevent children from starting, he said.

The study is unique as it examines the risks of smoking and the benefits of stopping among a representative sample of Americans. Earlier studies had examined specific groups such as nurses or volunteers who are healthier than average Americans overall.

The study is among the first to document the generation of women who started smoking when they were young and kept smoking through their adult lives. For women, the risks of dying from smoking-related causes are 50 per cent greater than found in the studies conducted in the 1980s.

Women and men who smoke both lost a decade of life. Current male or female smokers aged 25-79 years had a mortality rate three times higher than people who had never smoked.

Professor Jha’s research used data from the U.S. National Health Interview Survey in which a representative cross-section of the population is surveyed every year about a broad range of health topics. More than 200,000 survey participants were linked to the National Death Index, which includes death certificate information for all Americans since 1986. The researchers related deaths of about 16,000 people to their past reported smoking.

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