Tobacco will kill one in three smokers who are young men in China, a new study has warned, indicating a worrying trend in an already-ageing society.
Published in the prestigious medical journal, The Lancet, the study said at least one million people in China died of tobacco-related causes by 2010; the number could double to 2 million by 2030 if the current smoking trends continue in the most populous country in the world.
China is the world’s largest tobacco consumer and producer and the number of smokers in the country reached the 300 million mark - more than the population of the US -- by the end of last year.
Beijing, according to state media, has nearly 4.20 million smokers, who smoke nearly 15 cigarettes a day.
Among the hundreds of millions of smokers, those below 20 fall in the high-risk category, the study said.
“Two-thirds of the young men in China start to smoke, mostly before age 20, and the study, led by researchers from Oxford University, UK, the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and the Chinese Centre for Disease Control, shows that around half of those who start smoking cigarettes as young men will eventually be killed by tobacco, unless they stop permanently,” a statement from the journal said.
The results were collated from two nationally-representative different studies: the first took place in the 1990s and a quarter of million men were surveyed and the second ongoing study involves half-a-million men and women.
“About two-thirds of young Chinese men become cigarette smokers, and most start before they are 20. Unless they stop, about half of them will eventually be killed by their habit,” Zhengming Chen from the University of Oxford, co-author of the study said.
“Without rapid, committed, and widespread action to reduce smoking levels, China will face enormous numbers of premature deaths,” Liming Li, from the Academy of Medical Sciences, said.
“The proportion of all male deaths at ages 40-79 that are attributed to smoking has doubled, from about 10% in the early 1990s, to about 20 percent now. In urban areas this proportion is higher, at 25% and is still rising,” the study said.
One silver lining is the smoke-filled horizon is that “women of working age in China now smoke much less than the older generation. About 10 percent of women born in the 1930s smoked but only about 1% in the 1960s did so. Hence, overall female deaths caused by tobacco are decreasing and less than 1% of deaths in women born since 1960 are due to tobacco”.
The researchers have suggested a “substantial increase” is cigarette prices as one way of discouraging smokers.