Smoking: A greater cause of premature deaths than poverty, Scottish study finds.

Friday 20 February 2009

A major new study shows conclusively that smoking is a much more significant cause of health inequalities than wealth or social class. Well-off smokers die earlier than poor non-smokers and smoking also cancels out the life expectancy advantage women have over men, so that women smokers die earlier than male non-smokers.

The study also found that ex-smokers’ survival rates were closer to those of people who had never smoked than those of smokers, emphasising the benefits of quitting smoking even in middle age. [1]

This important large study was part of a long term, community based study in the Scottish towns of Renfrew and Paisley. It was started in 1972 when all residents then aged between 45 and 64 years were invited to participate. After 28 years of follow-up, 56% of women and 36% of men who had never smoked in social classes IV and V were still alive, compared with only 41% of women and 24% of men who smoked in social classes I and II.

An inquiry by the Government’s Health Select Committee into health inequalities, which is due to be published soon, is also expected to flag up the importance of quitting smoking in order to narrow the health gap between rich and poor.

Commenting on the findings, ASH Chief Executive, Deborah Arnott, said:

“The measures in the Health Bill to deter children from taking up smoking such as a ban on the display of tobacco products in shops and a ban on tobacco vending machines are a welcome step forward. But this study shows that if the Government is to succeed in reducing health inequalities in the next generation it needs to have a comprehensive strategy to drive down smoking rates. This should include sufficient resources to ensure people who want to stop smoking are given all the help they need.”


Notes and links
[1] Gruer L et al. Effect of tobacco smoking on survival of men and women by social position: a 28 year cohort study. BMJ
[2] Doll, R, Peto R. Boreham J, Sutherland I. Mortality in relation to smoking: 50 years observations on male British doctors. BMJ 2004;328:1519-33.