Women smokers run greatest risk: Statistics show females slicing nearly seven years off their lives, reports Vivien Goldsmith

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THE RATE at which smoking is killing women is even more dramatic than the first statistics indicated.

The Continuous Mortality Bureau of the Institute of Actuaries and Faculty of Actuaries has been tracking a group of more than 500,000 people with life insurance policies since 1988 - 70 per cent non-smokers and 30 per cent smokers.

After two years it appeared that smokers were cutting their lives by six years. But a further year of tracking has shown up a sharper division between the effects on men and women, with women smokers slicing nearly seven years off their lives and men about five years.

Most common age span for women who do not smoke is 92, while smokers' median age is 86. For men smoking means the difference between living to 85 and 81.

These statistics may understate the true facts as only those taking out life insurance policies are tracked, so there is a bias towards the middle classes, John McCutcheon, president of the Faculty of Actuaries, said this week.

The figures also assume that life insurance applicants tell the truth, so there may be some smokers counted with those claiming to be non-smokers.

Women smokers overall suffer more than double the expected death rate while those aged 61 to 75 suffer two and half times the number. Before the third year of statistics was added to the survey it was thought that the figure ran a shade under twice the rate for non-smokers.

The figures for men show that the risk is slightly less than thought, with deaths running at 73 per cent ahead of non-smoking rates compared with 78 per cent following the earlier survey.

Life insurance companies are likely to adjust premiums to reflect these figures. This will mainly affect pure life insurance policies rather than endowments, where the life insurance element is tiny compared with the savings element.

In April General Accident Life started charging smokers an extra 15 per cent and cut the rates paid by non-smokers by 10 per cent. But some companies, such as Standard Life, still do not make a distinction between smokers and non-smokers.

Icki Iqbal, chief actuary at Royal Life, said the company was happy with current rates but they were under constant review. 'It is a gamble,' he said. 'We will always honour our commitments. We try to look forwards. For instance, female rates are loaded to take account of the possible spread of Aids to women.'

----------------------------------------------------------------- MONTHLY PREMIUMS IN POUNDS FOR LIFE COVER OF POUNDS 200,000 ----------------------------------------------------------------- Term Male aged Female aged Male aged Female aged (years) 24 24 44 44 Smoker Non- Smoker Non- Smoker Non- Smoker Non- smoker smoker smoker smoker Five 25.04 16.46 16.46 13.88 90.25 49.91 53.00 28.11 Ten 37.57 23.84 24.18 16.46 205.61 118.23 109.82 61.75 ----------------------------------------------------------------- Source: Royal Life -----------------------------------------------------------------

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