Smokers 'miss out on 50 years of medical advances'

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Most of the life-prolonging medical advances of the past 50 years have been lost on smokers because of their habit, according to a report published today by the world's leading expert on lung cancer.

Most of the life-prolonging medical advances of the past 50 years have been lost on smokers because of their habit, according to a report published today by the world's leading expert on lung cancer.

The gap in life expectancy between smokers and non-smokers has widened in the past half-century as new drugs, treatments and preventive measures have reduced deaths from other causes.

Despite all the other improvements in modern medicine and public health, smoking still cuts 10 years off a person's life.

Professor Sir Richard Doll, the researcher who first revealed the link between smoking and lung cancer, will today announce the findings in the final conclusions of his 50-year study into the health risks of tobacco.

The research represents 92-year-old Professor Doll's life's work, and the study is the largest and longest-running of its kind in the world.

Today's report, according to those who have seen it, will conclude that smokers have failed to benefit from the increases in life expectancy enjoyed by the rest of the population.

Smoking remains the single biggest cause of preventable death and the main reason for the differences in life expectancy between the richest and poorest in society.

A man in the lowest social class has a one in two chance of living until the age of 70, while a man in the highest social class has a three in four chance of surviving to that age. Half of that difference is attributable to smoking, Professor Doll says.

But the report will also conclude that smokers of all ages can still benefit from giving up. While smoking takes 10 years off life expectancy, a lifelong addict who stops at the age of 50 can reduce that by four years.

A 60-year-old hardened smoker can reduce the risk by three years, while those who stop in their thirties can cut their risk by 90 per cent.

A spokesman for the charity Action on Smoking and Health said: "This study shows that smoking is still the number one cause of preventable death, but that it is never too late to give up. However, the earlier you give up, the better your life chances are.

"Smoking is so dangerous that it really doesn't matter how rich or how healthy you are, if you smoke you are not going to live for as long as someone who doesn't."

Professor Doll's final findings will be published in the British Medical Journal on Saturday - exactly 50 years to the day since his first report from the study appeared in the BMJ and provided proof that smoking did cause lung cancer.

Since 1951, Professor Doll has studied the health of 35,439 British doctors born between 1900 and 1930. His 1954 paper found that out of the 780 doctors who had died, 35 were killed by lung cancer. All of them were smokers.

The study was seen as particularly important because doctors were considered to be more reliable reporters of their own habits and health and were committed to their involvement in the project.

While the Government had rejected earlier studies which had suggested a link with lung cancer, the Doll paper finally forced ministers to act.

In 1955, the then Minister of Health, R H Turton, said: "There is statistically an incontrovertible association between cigarette smoking and incidence of lung cancer."

Professor Doll has continued to follow the doctors over the past 50 years, producing new reports every 10 years, but has decided that this will be the last from the study.

"I don't really think there is any point in doing more of this work," he has said. "I don't think there is anything more to learn."

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