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 130.

    114. Chris
    You can't talk about 'adults making an informed choice' in the context of something as addictive as smoking. People need protecting from themselves.
    I admit it. I'm a weak willed and lily livered adult who needs protecting. S'pose an enforced strait jacket based attire would stop me from lighting up!

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    I wonder how much of our money was spent on funding this research.
    It appears to me, most of these so-called "better living" studies are only aimed at things we already know about.

    The only people who will be affected by smokers giving up, will be the non-smokers.
    Where do you think the government will get all the money from after they lose the 85% tax from tobacco products

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    Baron Brick
    16 Minutes ago
    My Nan is 94, smoked all her life and is as fit as a lop.
    Who do I believe?

    My mother was 59 when she died of lung cancer, after a lifetime of being a heavy smoker. Please don't post rubbish like this, it's insulting to the millions of victims whose lives were claimed by the tobacco industry worldwide.

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    116. I need to find the article by a journalist that was actually a smoker, who made the claims. Of course, it depends what you include in that stat. The cost of the NHS is >£100bn. £2-5bn is a very low figure for complex and protracted deseases that affect ~25-50% of the population.
    Till then, try looking up the policy exchange study advising the gov to put up taxes so smokers cover their costs

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    Happy days, a licence to smoke for another 8 years guilt-free! Thanks guys!

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    Wow, just reading some of the higher rated comments. Didn't realise smoking caused delusions and a false sense of reason. You're kidding yourselves, no-one else!

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    To hear one female stating that "since I gave up smoking I've got my sense of smell back" tells me more about her mental capacity and why she took up smoking in the first place.

    Peer pressure and lack of intelligence is why most people smoke.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    I prefer fresh tobacco actually!

    I'd import it if I could!

    I know my habit doesn't cause the same problems as a drinkers, so you can try and belittle me all you want, but I wont be the one needing to drink to get through normal life.

    Ignorance is bliss eh?

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    @114.Chris, So when you've 'protected' people from themselves by banning smoking, what next, Alcohol, then what, fatty/sugary foods, then?

    In a free society you can only give people the facts for them to make thier own decisions, if they choose to smoke/drink/eat sugary/fatty foods thats thier CHOICE, not yours or anyone elses.

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    All well and good the "Anti's" complaining about smoker.
    But where are they in all the NON smoking pubs, clubs and entertainment venues? Hundreds of pubs are closing every week because no one is in them, and the reason is smokers are not welcome, and it is smokers generally that like a few beers. So they stay at home with a 6 pack and a packet of fags, and say stfu!

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    More tax needs to be added to all tobacco products!

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    cigarette / nicotine / tar smoke is a proven carcinogen which is not containable to the user, this impinges on other peoples freedom and rights not to be contaminated by a carcinogen and have clean air, so smoking should be outlawed. But the government allows it because it is under the thumb of the cig companies and likes the tax revenue.


  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    So you are one of those that wants to dictate the choices of others.There are very few places where secondary smoke can affect you,so stop whining.
    You must have amazing sense of smell to smell smoke outside in 'the woods'.
    You are one of those that resent smokers because of your own secret craving(s).
    Make your own choices and leave others alone to make their choices.

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    I'm all in favour of free choice but if these idiots (men or women) want to fill their lungs with carcegenics thats there lookout. Health priorities should go to people who make an effort to look after themselves. There is no need to live like a monk but its not rocket science to know smoking will kill you.
    "You pays your you makes your choice".

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    re104 happytravelling
    all you have to do is use google! it will dispell all the myths you seem to believe.
    the total cost of treating smokers is 2-5 billion! figures released by the department of Health!smokers raised £10billion in taxes in 2011!that's a net gain of £5billion!
    as someone who is not a smoker I do not want to have to make up that shortfall.Do you?

  • Comment number 115.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    The vitriol against the anti-smoking messages on this web page shows just how addictive tobacco is. Kids need protecting from smoking so they don't become addicted adults. You can't talk about 'adults making an informed choice' in the context of something as addictive as smoking. People need protecting from themselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    i stopped at 40 but I am also male so they will need many millions of pounds more to check out what happen with male smokers? A tip for smokers - Don't Quit smoking (this is just postponing starting again). Stop smoking. Its hard to stop and you will make every excuse not to stop because you are weak -if it saves 10 yrs of struggling to breath/talk through a hole in your neck its all good.

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    108. Lawless-uk

    Have a "Woodbine" then instead.

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    This really is not news at all. 35 years ago I saw a woman on the television saying that research showed that people who stopped smoking before the age of 30 years of age would not suffer long-term lung damage. I well remember thinking "Right, I've got 6 years to prepare myself". I stopped smoking on my 30th birthday, 31years ago.


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