Female smoking death risk 'has soared'

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Women smoking nowadays are far more likely to die as a result of their habit than they were in the 1960s, according to a new study.

Changing habits such as starting earlier and smoking more cigarettes have been blamed for the dramatically increased risks of lung cancer.

The trends, reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, show death rates in women have caught up with men.

The study looked at data from more than two million women in the US.

The first generation of women smokers started during the 1950s and 60s. In those early years, women who smoked were nearly three times more likely to die from lung cancer as people who had never smoked.

Looking at medical records from women between 2000-2010 showed they were 25 times more likely to die from lung cancer than their non-smoking friends.

It follows a similar pattern in men, who reached a similar level in the 1980s.

Lead researcher Dr Michael Thun said: "The steep increase in risk among female smokers has continued for decades after the serious health risks from smoking were well established, and despite the fact that women predominantly smoked cigarette brands marketed as lower in 'tar' and nicotine.

"So not only did the use of cigarette brands marketed as 'Light' and 'Mild' fail to prevent a large increase in risk in women, it also may have exacerbated the increase in deaths from chronic obstructive lung disease in male smokers, since the diluted smoke from these cigarettes is inhaled more deeply into the lungs of smokers to maintain the accustomed absorption of nicotine."

Research published last year suggested that lifelong female smokers died a decade earlier than those who never started.

However, those who gave up by the age of 30 almost completely avoided the risks of dying early from tobacco-related diseases with those stopping by 40 died a year younger.

Speaking after that study, Prof Sir Richard Peto, at Oxford University, said "If women smoke like men, they die like men."

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