– One in three of all the young men in China will eventually be killed by tobacco, according to new research published in The Lancet medical journal.
About two-thirds of young Chinese men become cigarette smokers and most start before the age of 20, researchers from Oxford University, the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and the Chinese Centre for Disease Control found.
Around half of these young male smokers will die from tobacco-related health problems unless a substantial proportion stop smoking, the report said.
“Without rapid, committed, and widespread action to reduce smoking levels China will face enormous numbers of premature deaths,” said study co-author Liming Li from the Academy of Medical Sciences.
The researchers had conducted two large studies 15 years apart to track and compare the health consequences of smoking among older and younger people in China.
The first study took place in the 1990s, and involved a quarter of a million men at ages 40-79 years and the second study is ongoing, involving half a million men and women at ages 35-74 years.
The results showed that the annual number of tobacco deaths, mostly among men, had reached 1 million by 2010, and if current trends continue as the adult population grows in China, tobacco deaths will rise to 2 million by 2030.
Among Chinese women, smoking rates have plunged and the risk of premature death from tobacco is low and falling.
In a joint comment on the study, Jeffrey Koplan from Emory University and Michael Eriksen from Georgia State University said myths about tobacco have limited the effectiveness of health education campaigns in China.
“These include the belief that protective biological mechanisms specific to Asian populations make smoking less hazardous, that it is easy to quit smoking, and that tobacco use is an intrinsic and ancient part of Chinese culture,” Koplan and Eriksen said.
Zhang Hao, a 33-year old real estate developer from the northeast city of Tianjin, started smoking at age 18 and said he has no plans to quit.
“I don’t believe any of the studies on the harm of smoking. There are many famous people in history like Deng Xiaoping who smoked and lived long, healthy lives,” Zhang told dpa.
“There are too many factors that could impact how long one could live; like diet, environment, and most importantly, people’s state of mind and how they feel about themselves,” he said.
Xu Guihua, vice-secretary of the state-backed Chinese Association of Tobacco Control, said she believes the researchers’ methods were trustworthy.
“Their premise is that one in three will die from tobacco deaths if not much changes. However, I’m optimistic that the number of smokers will drop as a result of regulations waiting to be issued that will ban public smoking,” Xu told dpa.
China is considering passing a nationwide tobacco control law.
If adopted, it would make all indoor and some outdoor public places
in China smoke-free, ban tobacco advertising, promotion and
sponsorship and require graphic health warnings covering half of tobacco packets.
Beijing rolled out a tough ban on smoking in all indoor public places on June 1. The government has also set up a hotline to receive
complaints and reports of illegal smoking.
Scientists estimate 6 million people worldwide die per year from tobacco use.