NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - More and more Asians are becoming smokers, but very few are making an effort to quit, an international team of researchers reports.
Public health efforts, the researchers say, must focus on getting the word out about the health dangers of smoking and helping people to kick the habit, noting that if efforts only target preventing people from starting smoking in the first place, “160 million current smokers will die before 2050, with the vast majority of deaths occurring in China.”
To analyze patterns of smoking in Asia, where the habit has only relatively recently become established, as well as in Australia and New Zealand, Dr. Rachel Huxley of The George Institute for International Health in Sydney, Australia and colleagues reviewed 31 studies on smoking, quitting and lung cancer. The studies included a total of 480,125 people.
Awareness of the health risks of smoking is low in China, the researchers say, noting that in one study they reviewed, 70 percent of Chinese smokers called the health dangers of smoking “negligible” and just 4 percent thought the habit was related to heart disease.
One study found that two-thirds of UK smokers expressed a desire to quit, they note, while nearly three-quarters of China’s 320 million smokers said they had no intention of doing so.
Twenty-two percent of men in Australia and New Zealand were current smokers at the study’s outset, the researchers found, as were 14 percent of women.
In Asia, 59 percent of men smoked, compared to 3 percent of women. Australians and New Zealanders smoked about one-third to one-half more cigarettes than their Asian counterparts.
Male smokers in Asia were 2.48 times more likely to die of lung cancer than non-smokers, the researchers found, while male smokers in Australia and New Zealand faced a nearly 10-fold increased risk of death.
For women, the risk of lung cancer death from smoking among Asians was 2.35 times greater, while for females in Australia and New Zealand risk was more than 19-fold greater.
The risk of death from lung cancer declined by 15 percent for every year that a former smoker had quit, the researchers found.
“As in the West, strategies designed to increase general awareness of the hazards associated with smoking, and the benefits derived from quitting, may help encourage the many smokers across Asia to quit the habit and, by doing so, prevent many of the large number of deaths predicted to occur if current smoking patterns persist,” Huxley and colleagues conclude.
SOURCE: American Journal of Epidemiology, online March 16, 2007.