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 350.

    341. Andrew

    327. I challenge the idea that the smoking ban is 'unwanted'. I certainly welcomed it.
    I didn't want it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 349.

    Oh come on!!
    Just how many deaths are related to just dying? I will tell you: 0% because you will die from something or other and whatever it is will be noted and absorbed into that great statistical machine which idiots love playing with!!!.

    I smoke because of these STUPID people. To think the government pays them to come out with this dribble.

    (A plastic carrier bag supporter)

  • rate this

    Comment number 348.

    "my dad smoked all is life he died when he was 91 of an infection he got in hostpital nothing to do with smoking"

    Which proves nothing, other than there will always be a few lucky people who beat the odds. If you smoke you literally gamble your life that you are going to beat odds that are stacked against you and get worse the more you play.

  • rate this

    Comment number 347.

    A lot of smokers and ex smokers seem to think that any form of criticism is 'self righteous'. This is a common whinge from the smoking lobby. An inability to see anyone else's point of view seems both unattractive and selfish!

  • rate this

    Comment number 346.

    I quit with the help of "I cant believe its not tobacco" its a substance made with the help of Shetland ponies.

    The side effects leave you a "little hoarse" but otherwise ok.

    You store it outside (with the dog)

  • rate this

    Comment number 345.

    For those asking "why only women", this paper is derived from the Million Women Study which recruited women over 50 invited to attend breast cancer screening. The study was mainly set up to look at the impact of HRT but the women were asked questions about other lifestyle factors too. The analysis is based on questionnaire responses and health /death data. It is not sexist by design.

  • rate this

    Comment number 344.

    Being a non-smoker obviously makes you rude and self righteous as is clear from this discussion as the non-smokers keep calling the smokers stupid, unintelligent, smelly and all sorts of other name calling.
    At least the smokers refrain from this practice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 343.

    I stopped smoking several years ago. I didn't give anything up as it is a foul unsociable habit. We have to be very careful about the language that we use on this subject!

  • rate this

    Comment number 342.

    If the government ever loses the revenue generated by smokers, they'll have to close the hospital doors. If this wasn't true, they wouldn't pursue tobacco smugglers with such zeal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 341.

    327. I challenge the idea that the smoking ban is 'unwanted'. I certainly welcomed it. No longer do I come back from a night out with hair, body and clothes stinking of tobacco and with my eyes, nose and throat raw. Smoke has never added one ounce of pleasure to my social life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 340.

    336. tonep
    320 name number 6

    "The biggest rise has been in the over 55's - go figure."

    I wish use of the phrase "go figure" was at least banned, perhaps punishable by death.
    Yeah fair point.

  • rate this

    Comment number 339.

    Is this actually news, have we not been told for years that quitting smoking reduces the risk, this seems to be a case of somebody being paid a fortune to do research that's already been done several times! Yes you should stop smoking but I think everybody already knows that don't they?

  • rate this

    Comment number 338.

    Stub it or snuff it.

    That's your freedom of choice. Use it. Wisely.

  • rate this

    Comment number 337.

    Before anyone dose more studying the same is probably true of men also people who never start are probably less likely to develop smoking related illnesses also since the smoking ban non smokers are even less likely to there now go and work on something we don't know about Dr

  • rate this

    Comment number 336.

    320 name number 6

    "The biggest rise has been in the over 55's - go figure."

    I wish use of the phrase "go figure" was at least banned, perhaps punishable by death.

  • rate this

    Comment number 335.

    330. Some Lingering Fog

    Only the weak-willed and the stupid continue to smoke.
    Some famous smokers:

    Enstien, Churchill, Edwin Hubble, Alexander Graham Bell, Robert Oppenheimer, FDR, JFK, Jean-Paul Sartre, Oscar Wilde And Sigmund Freud.

    Adolf Hitler was famously a non-smoker.

  • rate this

    Comment number 334.

    C'mon this is no news. Everyone who smokes know this . Our women are not dumb in anyway not to know this. This is just lack of news from the bbc. The public dont need a report for this. This is just a wasted effort from Lancet academics

  • rate this

    Comment number 333.

    It's one hell of an addiction, sure, but just decide to give it up, and be determined. Do you like living free or under the control/posession of a chemical? Be strong, not pathetic! (ex-smoker here, never to go back).

  • Comment number 332.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 331.

    I smoked 40 a day, and thoroughly enjoyed it...after morning coffee, on the way to work, at work, after lunch, in the afternoon, at the pub or at home after work, after dinner...that was 26 years ago. I was able, thankfully, to kick the habit. Not easy for someone who really enjoyed smoking, but it is kickable. Trust me. Just stub it out!


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