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Clinical Articles, News & Views

Dangers of smoking complacency

Despite falling death rates from smoking in the UK, we must not be complacent about current smoking rates and continue to press home the message ‘Smoking kills – stopping works,’ according to this year’s Harveian Oration at the Royal College of Physicians.

In his Oration, Professor Sir Richard Peto, co-director of the Clinical Trial Service Unit (CTSU) (University of Oxford) said that the UK has gone from having the world’s worst death rate from smoking in 1970, when tobacco accounted for half of all premature deaths among men in the UK, to having the world’s biggest decrease in mortality from smoking by 2010.

But smoking still causes a fifth of all UK deaths in middle age (35-69), Professor Peto said, which is twice as many as overweight and obesity. Those killed in middle age lose, on average, more than 20 years of life, he added.

However the good news, he continued, is that if people stop smoking before they are 40, they avoid more than 90% of their risk of being killed by tobacco. Although those who stop at 40 will always have an excess risk of premature death in comparison to never-smokers, that excess risk would have been ten times larger if they had continued smoking.  Those who stop before age 30 avoid more than 97% of their risk of being killed by tobacco.

In most countries, premature mortality from both communicable and non-communicable diseases is decreasing. The only four causes of death in peacetime that have increased substantially in some major population over the past few decades are smoking (e.g. in China), alcohol (e.g. in Russia), obesity (e.g. in America) and HIV (e.g. in Africa), Professor Peto said.

Published on: October 19, 2012

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