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One million tobacco deaths a year in India during the

13 February 2008

Indian Woman Smoking Indian Cigarette known as Beedi

India is caught in the midst of a catastrophic smoking epidemic, which is causing one
in five of all male deaths in middle age and will cause about one million deaths a year
during the 2010s. Seventy percent of these deaths (600,000 male and 100,000 female)
will be between the ages of 30 and 69.

The findings are from the first nationally representative study of smoking in India as a
whole. The research, a collaboration between India, Canada and the UK, is published
in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The study found that, among men, about 61 percent of those who smoke can expect to
die at ages 30-69 compared with only 41 percent of otherwise similar non-smokers.
Among women, 62 percent of those who smoke can expect to die at ages 30-69
compared with only 38 percent of non-smokers. This means that smoking accounts for
most of the difference in premature deaths between men and women in India.

Professor Sir Richard Peto, of the Medical Research Council Clinical Trial Service
Unit at the University of Oxford and one of the co-authors on the paper, said: “We
were surprised by just how dangerous smoking was for Indian populations. But while
smoking kills, stopping works. British studies show that stopping smoking is
remarkably effective. At present, however, only 2 percent of adults have quit in India,
and often only after falling ill.”

The study found there were no safe levels of smoking, but while the hazards of
smoking even a few Indian roll-ups (bidis) a day were substantial, the dangers of
smoking just a few cigarettes a day were even greater, corresponding to almost a
doubling of the risk of death in middle age.

Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council, said: “This
research demonstrates the scale of the problem. It also shows that smoking kills in
different ways in rural and urban India. In rural India, smoking mainly kills by
causing death from TB. In Indian cities it mainly kills by causing heart attacks. This
suggests a high risk of smoking-related cardiovascular disease among South Asian
populations around the world. However, be it in Delhi or Derby, the same thing
works: quitting. This is why the MRC is a founding member of ‘Grand Challenges in
Chronic Non-Communicable Diseases’ which has as one of it aims to assist in
smoking cessation initiatives worldwide.”
Jean King, director of tobacco control at Cancer Research UK, added: “Smokers in
India have twice the non-smoker cancer rate and are twice as likely to die in middle
age as non-smokers. Cancer deaths in India will continue to rise unless concerted
action is taken to reduce smoking rates. It's clear that the best way for smokers to
reduce their risk of cancer, and many other life threatening diseases, is to stop
smoking entirely. Over the past 30 years UK smoking rates have declined and we
have seen the world’s biggest decrease in lung cancer deaths, particularly among

Thanks to News from the website of Medical Research Council, United Kingdom