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 110.

    .. if you walk through a wood you can pick up the odious stench if a smoker has been in recently, ruins the walk
    So the 'natural' countryside attributes of cow dung (deposited or sprayed by farmers), pesticides, local pollution is acceptable to your olfactory sense?

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    Studies have shown that if you don't drink, smoke, or eat fatty foods, you don't live any longer it just seems like it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    @ 93 Name number 6

    Nah, alcohol isn't my idea of a good time.

    I see the problems it causes and it turns me right off.

    Thanks for the "advice" though

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    31 Muadib2, sweetie, one thing you can't call smokers is 'weak' - we are continually bullied and belittled frequently by the self-righteous. I know it's childish, but I do so enjoy smoking when a non-smoker wanders up to me and my airspace (since I so thoughtfully move away from others when smoking) waving their arms and mock-spluttering.

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    All smokers are junkies, no matter what they say or why they first started. The tax issue is irrelevant, only taxes and death are certain in life. Fuel is also burdened because the government is too dishonest to charge proper, fair rates of income tax. No one can now ignore the effects of tobacco on their lives - and mine inhaling their noxious filth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    Fags are only expensive because of tax.
    They used to be cheap untill do gooders decided that no one should be allowed to smoke, thats proberbly why she had money for fags.
    As i`m sure your aware some goods that were cheap in the 60s are expensive now and vicea versa relative to income.

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    80, 84 etc. when the smoking ban started there were a number of articles concerning this. Some by smokers who admitted they set out to prove they paid for their own habit. All had to admit they didn't manage to prove their point.
    As I said, all addicts like to pretend they are in control of their habit and it has no ill effects. Smokers do not "pay" for their habit. Its a myth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    I would like them to ban smoking and make it illegal to sell cigarettes

    but it looks like governments want the tax too much to do the right thing

    smoking is something that immediately effects other people, passive smoking, even outdoors, if you have a remotely decent sense of smell, if you walk through a wood you can pick up the odious stench if a smoker has been in recently, ruins the walk

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    Why is it these studies always focus on women, what about the effects of smoking on men? Do they suffer the same king of degredation in life span from the same age?

    Also look at the stats, 1 year on an average age of 87 for women means they extend thier life by 1.15%, is it really worth it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    I gave up smoking when I was around 30 and I feel so much better , I don't get colds coughs and I have so much more energy.

    I don't object to other people smoking after all it's their lifes, and I think the passive smoking argument is small because you have to make comparison to a BBQ or a bus stop and breathing dirty filthy diesel fumes from a bus which refuses to turn off the engine.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    Please tune in for tomorrow's special - "Water makes you wet"

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    re90 happy

    firstly i'm not a smoker.I just respect the choices idiots make in life.They help thin out our numbers and give us loads of cash in taxes.I for one do not want to have to pay anymore NI or income tax.

    second-it is not a myth.
    your claim that the treatment of lung and mouth cancer costs nine billion is defo something YOU HAVE MADE UP.therefore what you say is a myth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    My Nan is 94, smoked all her life and is as fit as a lop.
    Who do I believe? All this conflicting misinformation? Or a living, breathing example that although smoking 'can' kill you, it doesn't always manage? I'm sure this is to do with the tobacco ind'stry not giving the gov't backhanders anymore, which is why they charge so much tax on it. Going to war 'can' kill you, yet the gov't insist on it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    Smoking , wether people like it or not is, as my grandfather used to say,"a mugs' game". The more people think about the social costs, ie money that could be spent on something positive, the better. I had an aunt who as a single mum, struggling to bring up two kids moaned about politicians, and the lack of state support..........but she always had money for fags!!!!!!!! Evil things and I smoked!

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    Latest News – following thousands of years of extensive free research on billions of test volunteers... researchers have concluded that, if you ‘live’ (regardless of whether or not you smoke, drink, eat healthily or exercise) you will ‘always’ die!

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    My 'And another thing' number 1 post...
    As a smoker I pay higher mortgage, life insurance, household insurance etc premiums than non-smokers.
    Assuming I'll never claim (see my post @61) I, and other partakers of the legal tax raising weed, are subsidising cheaper payments and future payouts to non-smokers.
    Please feel free to counter-rant.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    Due to being diagnosed with lung disease i gave up smoking over 3 month's ago after having smoked for over 40 yrs.I tried the various products on the market but to no avail i failed miserably,being shown the x-rays of my lungs & the damage smoking had caused i stopped and curse the day i ever started smoking.
    Since quitting my problem has improved a little but still a bleak outlook.

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    92. Lawless-uk
    Relax mate, have a drink.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    It should amaze me that we don't see these kinds of reports on the effects of alcohol, but it doesn't, because alcohol keeps people sedated and dumbed down

    Ask any A&E staff just how many emergencies they deal with because of smoking, compared to alcohol, and then weigh up the social and financial cost caused by both

    Alcohol is the real problem, but no-one wants people to have to go without it

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    @geoff the log On that basis, I think it safe to assume that smokers would benefit from five a day


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