Researchers from Oxford University, UK, the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and the Chinese Centre for Disease Control, conducted two large, nationally representative studies 15 years apart, tracking the health consequences of smoking in a large group of people in China.
The results show that in China the annual number of tobacco deaths, mostly among men, had reached 1 million by 2010, and if current trends continue, it will be 2 million by 2030. Among Chinese women, however, smoking rates have plummeted and the risk of premature death from tobacco is low and falling.
In recent decades there has been a large increase in cigarette smoking by young men, and the research shows the consequences that are now emerging. The proportion of all male deaths at ages 40-79 that are attributed to smoking has doubled, from about 10% in the early 1990s, to about 20% now. In urban areas this proportion is higher, at 25%, and is still rising. In rural areas it is currently lower, but is set to rise even more steeply than in cities, due to the high prevalence of smoking and low rate of cessation in rural China.
Professor Zhengming Chen from the University of Oxford, a study co-author, says: “About two-thirds of young Chinese men become cigarette smokers, and most start before they are 20. Unless they stop, about half of them will eventually be killed by their habit.”
According to study co-author Professor Liming Li, from the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, Beijing, “Without rapid, committed, and widespread action to reduce smoking levels China will face enormous numbers of premature deaths.”