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 490.

    Smoking leads to croaking!
    I quit 12 years ago 'cold turkey' and have NEVER had even a puff since!

  • Comment number 489.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 488.

    As it happens I quit smoking guys 'n gals and it did me no harm at all. Now then. So all you good folks at home should be like my good friend here now then and stop smoking. This is the age of the train. You can take your good folks on an Intercity away day from Leeds to London for just £5.99.

  • rate this

    Comment number 487.

    if smoking makes you less likely to conceive then obviously IDS can combine policies and encourage poor people to smoke, so they won't make lots of babies! Result!

  • rate this

    Comment number 486.

    There's an important group we leave out of these discussions - people that don't worry about their health or physical mortality.

  • rate this

    Comment number 485.

    Can you ride a horse & smoke at the same time without lights on a dual carriageway ?

  • Comment number 484.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 483.

    The ipatch is the next big thing, you can have your dose & listen to ones favourite track in one application.

  • rate this

    Comment number 482.

    9 Minutes ago
    The directors of the tobacco companieshave the legal duty of maximising shareholders funds.
    And that's the important thing isn't it? The legal duty to blacken lungs and kill people - that's what matters.


    Thanks to FOREST etc. YES.

  • rate this

    Comment number 481.

    44 Minutes ago
    467. Denise
    "Smoking is unattractive, yes, but self-righteousness far more so."

    There is absolutely nothing as unattractive as a self-righteous smoker.


    Their pretence that they are fighters for freedom, I..E. slavery to the weed is both amusing and nauseating.

  • rate this

    Comment number 480.

    479. Dr Bob Matthews - If you're going to include closing down an industry and paying the workers benefits/loss of tax, NI etc. as costs, then you can justify keeping anything going in theory. War stopping would cost us a fortune as well. No more arms manufacturers or armed forces to pay, loss of taxes, NI etc. Same for crime, no Police, jails, security...

    Hope you see what I mean?

  • Comment number 479.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 478.

    The directors of the tobacco companieshave the legal duty of maximising shareholders funds.
    And that's the important thing isn't it? The legal duty to blacken lungs and kill people - that's what matters.

  • rate this

    Comment number 477.

    @473. Dr Bob Matthews - sorry I can't pretend to understand what you're getting at? Are you saying that banning smoking would cost more? I know there isn't much space here - but isn't that a different debate to smoking gives more or less cash now?

    From the figures I've seen, smoking costs more than it brings in. But money isn't the most important thing in the world is it? Although maybe it is?

  • rate this

    Comment number 476.

    1 Hour ago
    lung cancer is more prevalent in people over 65 years of age, not only is it due to smoking, they went through years of smog, worked with asbestos, and many are lung cancers that are not smoking related,


    Ignoring the fact that, of the small proportion who die from lung cancer, about 5/6 will be smokers, also helps the case for smoking.

  • rate this

    Comment number 475.

    40 Minutes ago
    The only pleasure in smoking is the relief from craving. Face it.

    Smokers are the victims of a huge multinational industry based on addiction and unwittingly spout arguments to support them because of this.


    The directors of the tobacco companieshave the legal duty of maximising shareholders funds.

  • rate this

    Comment number 474.

    I am sorry but i have to admit this purge against smokers.
    In my days as an advertising exec, yes i am ashamed, i was hired by the elves who were having trouble with the snow king killing off their population.
    I invented the slogan Snow King can damage your Elf and, well, the rest is history.
    Thank you, god bless and good night.

  • rate this

    Comment number 473.

    472 Continued, on your figures on estimated "life cycle of currently affected after ban. The lost tax overall plus the lost jobs plus the continuing NHS health provision would add an estimated £53Billion in the first year of the ban with an estimated £41Billion reducing to £11Billion after 10 years.I am sure all taxpayers would like to pay an additional 9 pence in the pound to satisfy ASH!

  • rate this

    Comment number 472.

    deleted Sorry but you led with your uprated figures so perhaps you will also accept the uprated credit side of the equation.Distribution costs less VAT but include salaries, NHI & Tax 2011 £630Million. Manufacturing, electronics, printing less VAT include salaries NHI & Tax same year £1.93Billion loss to exhequer on complete ban £17.93Billion plus benefits to unemployed!

  • rate this

    Comment number 471.

    I gave up when I was 30...so it looks like I am lucky. But I have always considered myself a 'lapsed smoker' ready to take it back up when the research shows that once I hit about 70 it won't make a difference what I do...bring on the research!


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