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Smokers often die prematurely: Study

The conclusion is based on the findings of the largest and longest study till date on smoking habits and consequences.
None | By Reuters, New York
UPDATED ON MAR 21, 2006 10:28 AM IST

Cigarette smoking strongly increases the risk of dying in middle age for both men and women, but kicking the habit, even at older ages, strongly decreases the risk of dying prematurely. These are the findings of the largest and longest study to date on smoking habits and consequences. The study is published on Tuesday in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Among nearly 50,000 residents of rural Norway who were followed for 25 years, researchers found that 41 per cent of men who continued to smoke heavily (at least one pack a day) died between 40 and 70 years of age compared with just 14 per cent of men who never smoked. Twenty-six percent of women who were heavy smokers died between 40 and 70 years of age compared with only 9 percent of women who did not smoke.

"Our study shows that smoking strongly reduces the chances of surviving from 40 to 70 years of age," write Dr Stein Emil Volsett of the University of Bergen and colleagues. There is a clear dose-response relationship between smoking and mortality -- survival decreases with increasing number of cigarettes smoked per day, they note.

The study also shows that the longer people delay smoking, the less likely they are to die from smoking at an early age, a finding that supports efforts to target smoking prevention efforts at adolescents and pre-adolescents.

Moreover, the sooner a smoker quits the better -- and it's never too late to quit. While the benefits of quitting are greatest for those who quit before their 40th or 50th birthday, people who quit at older ages (between 50 and 59 years of age) also enjoy better health.

The survival curves in this study "provide a powerful graphic representation of the huge effect of smoking on mortality risk in middle age among women and men," Dr Ronald M Davis writes in a related commentary.

"This study," he added in comments to Reuters Health, "confirms once again that cigarette smokers are much more likely than nonsmokers to die prematurely."

"The good news is that quitting smoking substantially reduces the excess risk of dying prematurely." Dr Davis is with the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, part of the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit.

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