Half of all smokers will die as a result of their habit, according to the final report of the world's largest and longest-running study on the health risks of tobacco, which was published yesterday.

Half of all smokers will die as a result of their habit, according to the final report of the world's largest and longest-running study on the health risks of tobacco, which was published yesterday.

While life expectancy has increased dramatically for non-smokers over the past 50 years, one in four people who smoke still die in middle age.

Smokers die an average of 10 years younger than those who have never had a habit and have failed to benefit from any of the life-prolonging medical advances of the past half-century.

The findings are included in the last report of a 50-year study on the effects of smoking by Professor Sir Richard Doll, the world-famous researcher who first established a link between tobacco and lung cancer. He said the study showed that the health risks of smoking were even greater than originally suspected.

Since 1951, Sir Richard has followed the lives of 35,000 doctors and found that those who smoked were much more likely to die of the disease.

Now, just 5,900 of the doctors in the study are alive and only 134 of those still smoke, prompting him to decide to publish one, final paper on his life's work.

The last tranche of the research will be published in Saturday's issue of the British Medical Journal, 50 years to the day since the first findings of the study appeared in the same publication.

Sir Richard, 92, said: "There is no point in us going on any further now. "I can only advise people that if they enjoy life, if they think life is worth living, then it is damned silly to smoke because you are just not going to have as much of it to live."

The Doll research is described as a "stunning achievement" in an editorial in the BMJ.

It is regarded as one of the finest pieces of medical research in the world, because it has managed to follow the same group of men for more than half a century.

Experts also regard it as hugely important because it involved people born in the first decades of the 20th century, when the incidence of smoking rose dramatically.

Sir Richard's work forced the Government to admit in 1955 that there was "incontrovertible" proof that smoking caused lung cancer.

The study's latest findings show that half of all people who start smoking in their teens and do not give up will eventually be killed by their habit.

Among men born after 1920 who are persistent smokers, the risks are even greater, with two-thirds either already dead or predicted to die as a result of their addiction.

Sir Richard said this was because men born in that era were conscripted into the Army during the war and given free cigarettes, leading to a huge rise in smoking rates and subsequent disease.

While the life expectancy of non-smokers has increased over the past 50 years due to massive advances in medicine, the benefits to smokers have been "completely nullified" by their continued tobacco use, the study concluded.

A man born in 1875 had a 12 per cent chance of surviving to the age of 90 if he did not smoke, and a 10 per cent chance if he did. A non-smoker born in 1915 has a 33 per cent chance of reaching 90, compared to just 7 per cent if he does.

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