Looking at what may be the first generation of women to have smoked throughout their adult lives, the toll of tobacco is clear – smokers lose at least ten years of lifespan.

A study published in the January 2013 edition of The Lancet, a leading general medical journal, examined the long-term impact of smoking among 1.3 million women in the United Kingdom. The study reached three key findings:

  • Smokers lost at least 10 years of life due to smoking. Smoking was responsible for two-thirds of all deaths of women in their 50s, 60s, and 70s.
  • The hazards for women of continuing to smoke after age 40 are ten times greater than the hazards of smoking before age 40. That is not to diminish the consequences of smoking before age 40. Smoking has immediate and significant adverse health effects regardless of age.
  • Quitting smoking before age 40 avoids more than 90% of the additional deaths caused by continuing to smoke after age 40. And stopping before age 30 avoids more than 97% of additional deaths. This finding is particularly encouraging news for countries that are in the earlier stages of the tobacco epidemic, where smoking rates remain relatively low among women. These countries can take meaningful actions to encourage women to quit smoking well before the age of 40 and to prevent young girls from starting to smoke.

The bottom line – the toll of tobacco in terms of years of life lost is devastating, but the benefits of early cessation are substantial. Even more, the opportunity to avoid another generation of women suffering from the consequences of smoking is within our reach. We can take meaningful actions to implement the provisions of the WHO FCTC and its Guidelines to protect people today and for generations to come.

Pirie K, Peto R, Reeves G, Green J, Beral V. The 21st Century Hazards of Smoking and Benefits of Stopping: A Prospective Study of One Million Women in the UK. Lancet. 2013 January; 381: 133-141.

A link to the abstract of the study can be accessed at: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2812%2961720-6/abstract.

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