Does China’s future belong to women? Yes, if the men keep smoking as a new study has suggested that one in three of all the young men in China will eventually be killed by tobacco.
Two-thirds of the young men in China start to smoke, mostly before age 20, and the study, led by researchers from Oxford University, UK, the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and the Chinese Centre for Disease Control, shows that around half of those who start smoking cigarettes as young men will eventually be killed by tobacco, unless they stop permanently.
The researchers conducted two large, nationally representative studies 15 years apart, tracking the health consequences of smoking in a large group of people in China. The first study took place in the 1990s, and involved a quarter of a million men. The second study is ongoing, and involved half a million men and women.
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 percent in the early 1990s, to about 20 percent now. In urban areas this proportion is higher, at 25 percent, 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.
Conversely, the women of working age in China now smoke much less than the older generation. About 10 percent of the women born in the 1930s smoked, but only about 1percent of those born in the 1960s did so. Hence, overall female deaths caused by tobacco are decreasing.
Co-author Zhengming Chen said that 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.
The study appears in The Lancet.