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The China Kadoorie Biobank has contributed to a major study of the genetics of tobacco and alcohol use, published in Nature. The study, led by the GSCAN consortium, involved 3.4 million people of European, African, American and Asian ancestries, and is the largest and most diverse study of its kind to date.

Tobacco and alcohol use are associated with approximately 15% and 5% of deaths worldwide, respectively, and are linked with chronic conditions like cancer and heart disease. Although the environment and culture can affect a person’s use and the likelihood of becoming addicted to these substances, genetics is also a contributing factor.

The study identified over 2,000 different genes which affect tobacco and alcohol use, and most of these had fairly consistent effects across different populations. The behaviours studied included smoking and drinking initiation, amount of cigarettes or drinks consumed, and quitting smoking. Understanding the genetic contribution to different smoking and alcohol use behaviours can be used to predict individuals most at risk from these behaviours, and who would benefit from interventions to reduce addiction and its associated harms.