Half of all today's smokers 'will die from their habit'

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HALF OF all people smoking today will eventually die as a result of their habit and half of these will die prematurely in middle age, losing 20 to 25 years of life expectancy, experts warned yesterday.

This includes a million of the United Kingdom's teenage smokers. If trends continue, world-wide about half a billion people alive today will be killed by tobacco.

The stark message comes from the World Health Organisation and the Imperial Cancer Research Fund in a book published today, Mortality from Smoking in Developed Countries 1950-2000, which says that someone is dying in the world every 10 seconds as a result of smoking.

It says that,in the UK,among 1,000 20-year-olds who smoke regularly one will be murdered, six will die in road accidents and 250 will be killed in middle age by smoking, with another 250 dying from smoking diseases in old age.

The report shows that even when increases in smoking habits in a population tail off, the death rates continue to rise as disease catches up, 30 years and more after they started to smoke.

'Our estimate of about half a billion of the world's current population eventually being killed by tobacco will be substantially wrong only if there are substantial changes in global smoking habits,' Richard Peto, professor of medical statistics and epidemiology at Oxford University and director of the ICRF Cancer Studies Unit, said.

Professor Peto, a co-author of the report, said: 'If smoking patterns persist then by the time young smokers of today reach middle or old age there will be about 10 million deaths a year from tobacco - one death every three seconds.'

In Britain, deaths from tobacco-related diseases - including lung cancer and heart disease - have fallen by a fifth since the mid-Seventies, but smoking still causes a quarter of all premature deaths.

But while deaths from smoking in men reached a peak in 1975 they have not started to fall in women. Statisticians predict that in 1995 in Britain about 49,000 women and 73,000 men will die from smoking. Numbers for 1975 were 30,000 women and 114,000 men.

Dr Alan Lopez, chief epidemiologist of the WHO 'Tobacco or Health' programme, said: 'What really matters is to stop young people starting smoking at an early age . . . (smoking) is the largest cause of avoidable and premature death. It will kill one in two of all smokers, eventually.'

Sir Richard Doll, emeritus professor of medicine, Oxford University, who first established the link between tobacco and lung cancer, said it was 'incredible' that the Government had not banned tobacco advertisng.

'Here you have something that is killing one-sixth of the population prematurely and people are being encouraged to do it . . . it is immoral, there is no other word for it,' he said.

Mortality from Smoking in Developed Countries 1950-2000; Richard Peto, Alan Lopez, Jillian Boreham, Michael Thun, Clark Heath; Oxford University Press; pounds 50.

(Graphs omitted)