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How tobacco kills its users

Monday March 9th, 2015

Two in three smokers are dying because of their habit, finds a new study from Australia.

Quitting as soon as possible reduces this risk, say the researchers, led by Professor Emily Banks of the Australian National University. They explain that smoking levels in Australia were historically high, but have fallen dramatically. There is also a lack of large-scale evidence on smoking and death rates in Australia.

So they used details of 204,953 people 45 and above living in New South Wales, Australia, who were followed for up to six years. This equates to 874,120 "person-years" of follow-up. During this time there were 5,593 deaths.

At the start of the study, 7.7% of participants were current smokers and 34.1% past smokers. The risk of death was approximately tripled in current smokers compared to those who had never smoked.

Death risk was also higher among those who smoked more, for example, those who smoked 25 or more cigarettes a day had a four-fold higher risk of death than never smokers, and those smoking 14 or fewer had a two-fold higher risk.

In the journal BMC Medicine yesterday, the authors wrote: "Among past smokers, mortality diminished gradually with increasing time since cessation and did not differ significantly from never-smokers in those quitting prior to age 45."

Professor Banks said: "We knew smoking was bad but we now have direct independent evidence that confirms the disturbing findings that have been emerging internationally. Even with the very low rates of smoking that we have in Australia we found that smokers have around three-fold the risk of premature death of those who have never smoked. We also found smokers will die an estimated 10 years earlier than non-smokers."

Banks, E. Tobacco smoking and all-cause mortality in a large Australian cohort study: findings from a mature epidemic with current low smoking prevalence. BMC Medicine 24 February 2015; doi:10.1186/s12916-015-0281-z [abstract]

Tags: Australia | Drug & Alcohol Abuse | Respiratory

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