China's smoking death toll set to 'double in 2030'

A man wearing a specially designed mask from a Beijing Design Week workshop, as a symbol of collective citizen action against pollution and smoking in public places.
A man wearing a specially designed mask from a Beijing Design Week workshop, as a symbol of collective citizen action against pollution and smoking in public places.PHOTO: REUTERS

Researchers warn of growing epidemic of premature death unless many smokers quit

PARIS • Smoking will kill about two million Chinese in 2030, double the 2010 toll, said researchers yesterday who warned of a "growing epidemic of premature death" in the world's most populous country. On current trends, one in three young Chinese men will be killed by tobacco, the team wrote in The Lancet medical journal.

Among women, though, there were fewer smokers and fewer deaths.

"About two-thirds of young Chinese men become cigarette smokers, and most start before they are 20. Unless they stop, about half of them will eventually be killed by their habit," said the article's co-author, Professor Chen Zhengming from Oxford University.

DEADLY HABIT

About two-thirds of young Chinese men become cigarette smokers, and most start before they are 20. Unless they stop, about half of them will eventually be killed by their habit.

PROFESSOR CHEN ZHENGMING, co-author of a study on smoking in China

China consumes more than a third of the world's cigarettes and has a sixth of the global smoking death toll.

"The annual number of deaths in China that are caused by tobacco will rise from about one million in 2010 to two million in 2030 and three million in 2050, unless there is widespread cessation," the researchers wrote.

"Widespread smoking cessation offers China one of the most effective, and cost-effective, strategies to avoid disability and premature death over the next few decades."

The 2010 death toll was made up of some 840,000 men and 130,000 women in China, which has a population of about 1.4 billion.

Smokers have about twice the mortality rate of people who never smoked, with a higher risk of lung cancer, stroke and heart attack.

The proportion of deaths attributed to smoking among Chinese men between 40 and 79 has doubled, from about 10 per cent in the early 1990s to 20 per cent today, said the researchers. The figure was even higher among city dwellers- a quarter of all male deaths and rising.

"Conversely, the women of working age in China now smoke much less than the older generation," said a statement from The Lancet.

"About 10 per cent of the women born in the 1930s smoked, but only about 1 per cent of those born in the 1960s did so."

Below 1 per cent of deaths in women born since 1960 are due to tobacco, said the study.

The researchers relied on data drawn from two nationwide studies involving some 730,000 Chinese in total.

The first study ran over several years in the 1990s, the second started in 2006 and continues today.

There were a few silver linings. The number of smokers who quit rose from 3 per cent in 1991 to 9 per cent in 2006. Those who stopped smoking before they developed any serious illness had a similar disease risk 10 years later than people who never smoked.

"With effective measures to accelerate cessation, the growing epidemic of premature death from tobacco can be halted and then reversed, as in other countries," said the study led by researchers from Oxford University, the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a comment in The Lancet, Dr Jeffrey Koplan and Dr Michael Eriksen of the Emory Global Health Institute in the United States pointed out that China was not only the world's largest consumer of tobacco, but also the largest grower and cigarette manufacturer.

"Being a government monopoly, China Tobacco (the Chinese National Tobacco Corporation) provides over 7 per cent of the central government's annual revenue through both taxes and net income," they wrote.

One of the study's authors, Professor Richard Peto of Oxford University, said tobacco deaths in Western countries have been dropping for 20 years, partly because of stiff price rises.

"For China, a substantial increase in cigarette prices could save tens of millions of lives," he said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 10, 2015, with the headline 'China's smoking death toll set to 'double in 2030''. Print Edition | Subscribe