Women smokers who quit by 30 'evade earlier death risks'


Dr Peter Mackereth: "It's important to get the message to young people not to start smoking in the first places"

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Women who give up smoking by the age of 30 will almost completely avoid the risks of dying early from tobacco-related diseases, according to a study of more than a million women in the UK.

The results, published in the Lancet, showed lifelong smokers died a decade earlier than those who never started.

But those who stopped by 30 lost, on average, a month of life and if they stopped by 40 they died a year younger.

Health experts said this was not a licence for the young to smoke.

'I started aged 11'

Former smoker Angela

Angela started smoking when she was 11. "Before I knew it, I was addicted," she said.

She used to hide her habit by taking the dog out for a walk. At one point she was smoking 10 cigarettes a day and more if she was going out.

After several attempts to quit she was successful: "I had a bit of a health scare and that really gave me the motivation to finally kick the habit."

She is now 29 and says it is "brilliant" news that quitting before the age of 30 could make a big difference to her health.

"It's amazing, I can feel it already actually."

The study followed the first generation of women to start smoking during the 1950s and 60s. As women started smoking on a large scale much later than men, the impact of a lifetime of cigarettes has only just been analysed for women.

"What we've shown is that if women smoke like men, they die like men," said lead researcher Prof Sir Richard Peto, from Oxford University.

He told the BBC: "More than half of women who smoke and keep on smoking will get killed by tobacco.

"Stopping works, amazingly well actually. Smoking kills, stopping works and the earlier you stop the better."

Professor Peto added the crucial risk factor was "time" spent smoking, rather than amount.

"If you smoke 10 cigarettes a day for 40 years it's a lot more dangerous than smoking 20 cigarettes a day for 20 years," he said.

"Even if you smoke a few cigarettes a day then you're twice as likely to die at middle age."

He added it was hard to measure the risk of "social smoking" a few times a week.

Early death

The records from 1.2 million women showed that even those who smoked fewer than 10 cigarettes a day were more likely to die sooner.

Sir Richard said that it was exactly the same picture as for men.

The British Lung Foundation said the prospects for long-term health were much better if people stopped smoking before they were 30, but cautioned that this was not a licence to smoke "as much as you want in your 20s".

Its chief executive, Dr Penny Woods, said: "Stopping smoking can also be difficult to do - an estimated 70% of current smokers say they want to quit, so you shouldn't start and just assume you'll be able to quit smoking whenever you want to.


  • Smoking is responsible for more than five million deaths worldwide every year
  • Smoking tobacco is a known or probable cause of around 25 diseases
  • Cigarette smoke contains 4,000 chemicals that can damage the human body
  • Eighty of which are known to cause cancer

Source: BBC Health

"The best thing for your health is to avoid smoking at all."

Prof Robert West, from the health behaviour research unit at University College London, said it was important to remember that smoking had more effects on the body than leading to an early death, such as ageing the skin.

"Around your mid-20s your lung function peaks and then declines. For most people that's fine - by the time you're into your 60s and 70s it's still good enough. But if you've smoked, and then stopped there is irreversible damage, which combined with age-related decline can significantly affect their quality of life.

"Obviously there is an issue around smoking if they want to get pregnant because it affects fertility and then there are the dangers of smoking during and after pregnancy."

The chartered health psychologist, Dr Lisa McNally, who specialises in NHS stop smoking services, also emphasised other factors.

Speaking to BBC News, she said: "There's the danger isn't there that people could almost take permission to continue to smoke to 30 or even to 40, but actually in my experience younger women quit smoking for other reasons other than life expectancy.

"They're more concerned about the cosmetic effects."

The Department of Health has announced that more than 268,000 people registered to take part in its "Stoptober" campaign - the UK's first ever mass event to stop smoking.

Health minister Anna Soubry said the £5.7m campaign had "exceeded expectations", adding that smokers were "five times more likely to give up for good after 28 days".


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  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Little old me: refer me please to ONE just ONE piece of scientific evidence that conclusively demonstrates a link between tobacco and cancer,
    as for example there is with asbestos, or that 2 grams of vitamin C per day will reverse atheroschlerosis

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    You don't have to smoke to die a smoke-related death. Roy Castle never smoked, but doctors thought he probably got his fatal lung cancer from years of performing in smoke-filled clubs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    Is there any evidence that giving up McDonald's before you are 30 is healthy and likely to make you more attractive to the opposite sex?

    (Other fast food rubbish is available.)

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    The survey, like all before, is seriously flawed:
    People who smoke have a general attitude of not caring about health related issues, so are affected by fatty foods etc etc and these have not been removed from the study.
    It's a bit like saying: most motorcyclists smoke and therefore smoking kills motorcyclists(in accidents) because fewer non-smokers die in M/cycle accidents

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    I think this news came out a long time ago. It's the same story for men. Give up at 30 and your lungs will have repaired themselves to the same as a non-smokers within 10 years.

    This news will not help!!! Smokers smoke because they are addicted to nicotine. When they quit, they don't quit anything. As nicotine and smoking provides you with nothing but debt and bad health.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    They choose to start smoking with all the known facts.So who cares about them trying to give up.

    There is also research that shows those with a lack of empathy die significantly younger than those with a more altruistic attitude

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    This is not new research on the benefit of quitting smoking by a certain age, as it applies to both genders.

    Perhaps the female slant ensures the researchers get published amongst a plethora of others?

    Smoking is dangerous and a personal choice whatever the gender - so keep gender out of it as an excuse to target any group, for whatever reason.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    They choose to start smoking with all the known facts.So who cares about them trying to give up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    even if you stop smoking and start running and eating healthy you're still going to die.
    plus, if you stop your hardcore habit, who will help fund the NHS?
    they are net contributors to the treasury,so will we be happy for a huge tax increase if all the stupid people stop smoking?

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    In making 4 billion a year from taxing tobacco, governments are never going to make it illegal. Especially when the high-rollers in the tobacco industry are good chums of the politicians, and donate large sums of dosh to their respective party's.
    The governments don't actually want us to give up smoking, it's worth far too much money to them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    13.Geoff the Log - "...........The link between tobacco and cancer has never been proved..............."

    And the award for the most riciulous comment of the day goes to Geoff......how on earth can you say that when there's is a veritable mountain of evidence proving that smoking can cause cancer....????

    Your evidence to the contrary is what exactly...???

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Half a century 'to emerge'

    "if women smoke like men, they die like men"

    Another 'pulled' scandal?

    In reality the same scandal

    Who would allow, make or promote cigarettes, but in Fear & Greed

    Who so cowardly, but in fear for livelihood & family?

    Childhood lost, by example, to infantilism & vulnerability

    Time for 'adult respect', Equal Partnership

    Meaning Income Equality, rule of Conscience

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    oh goody goody gumdrops another round of smoker bashing

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    What a surprise, why are they wasting money telling us the obvious

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    The cigarette companies were ecstatic when cigarette advertising was banned. Ads don't make kids take up smoking, they were only used, along with sports sponsorship, to maintain market share. Now they are all on a level playing field without spending millions on publicity and sport lost out. They will be equally happy with this "It's ok to smoke until you're 30" (then try and fail giving it up).

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    The cancer charities tell us cancer deaths are increasing, the anti- smokers tell us they are decreasing as more people give up. You can't believe anyone really, until you see scientific proof that satisfies all criteria. This does not exist for any link between smoking and cancer: there may be evidence to support the consequence of EXCESSIVE smoking, but this would be burn related not tobacco.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    A study of over 1 million women?! Who is paying for these studies?

    Smoking is bad. Quitting is good.

    Stop wasting money. Just a few weeks ago they were talking about a study that sitting all day is bad for you. For crying out loud! We don't need studies to tell us these things. Why don't you start a study on how much money our government is wasting?! Now that would be helpful!

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Smoking is bad for you? Who would have thought?

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    I suppose this is, yet again, statistics masquerading as empirical scientific research.

    Whilst agreeing that smoking isn't particularly good for you, there is no definative evidence that disease X is actually caused by smoking. Not cancer, not heart disease, not poor lung function. Do some real research, please!

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    "Gosh, if only I knew that before I became ADDICTED."

    That was hot news in the 1960's. Do try to keep up with modern affairs.

    Why not just admit you are demonstrably weak willed and acting like a child who cannot give up sweets.


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