Smoking cigarettes cuts an average of 10 years off a person’s life, a landmark study suggests. But it also shows that quitting at any age reduces the risks of dying from smoking-related diseases. The findings, published in the British Medical Journal, are the culmination of a 50-year study involving 34,439 men. The study, which began in 1951, was the first to confirm the link between smoking and lung cancer exactly 50 years ago. All of those involved in the study were born between 1900 and 1930 and all worked as doctors.
They were each asked about their smoking habits at the start of the study in 1951. Researchers contacted them periodically over the next 50 years to see if those habits had changed. Since the study began in 1951, tobacco has killed around 100 million people Professor Alex Markham, Cancer Research UK They also gathered information on those who died during the period. They have now analysed that data. They found that men who have never smoked lived on average 10 years longer than those who smoked for most of their lives. Men who smoked were at least twice as likely to die before the age of 70 as non-smokers. They were up to three times more likely to die before they were 90 compared to those who never took up the habit. The average age of these men when they started smoking was 18. On average, they said they smoked around 18 cigarettes a day.
It was already known that about half of all persistent cigarette smokers are killed by their habit, a quarter while still in middle age (35-69 years). The biggest killers are cancer, heart disease and stroke. But the study also revealed that giving up cigarettes at any age has major health benefits. It found that men who had stopped smoking by the time they were 30 lived as long as those who never smoked. Those who quit at 40, lived just one year less than those who had never smoked. Those who stopped smoking at 50 added six years onto their lives, while those who kicked the habit at 60 added an extra three years to their life.