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Smoking Kills Six People Every Minute, Study Says

September 20, 1994

LONDON (AP) _ Deaths from cigarettes are likely to more than triple over the next quarter century to 20 every minute around the world, scientists warn in a new global survey.

The findings are in a book, ″Mortality from Smoking in Developed Countries 1950-2000,″ to be published Tuesday by scientists at Britain’s Imperial Cancer Research Fund, the World Health Organization and the American Cancer Society.

″Worldwide smoking is already killing 3 million people each year, and this number is increasing,″ Richard Peto, a researcher at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, said at a news conference Monday. That translates to six people every minute, he said, and the worst is yet to come.

″If current smoking patterns persist, then by the time the young smokers of today reach middle or old age, there will be about 10 million deaths a year from tobacoo - one death every three seconds,″ Peto said.

The new survey provides the most comprehensive analysis of the world’s smokers, describing trends in smoking-related deaths since the 1950s and forecasting deaths into the next century. A previous study by the same authors two years ago covered the 1960s through the 1990s.

The new book covers 45 countries, 15 more than the previous study. The additional nations are from eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

Sixty million deaths have been caused by smoking since the 1950s, the investigators estimate. They predict smoking will kill about 10 million people a year by 2020, the vast majority in developing countries where the habit continues to attract young women.

″Smoking is like no other hazard. It will kill one in two smokers eventually,″ Dr. Alan Lopez of the World Health Organization, a co-author of the study, told reporters.

Dr. Ichiro Kawachi, an assistant professor of health and social behavior at the Harvard School of Public Health, said the authors ″have made a very good stab″ at predicting smoking deaths, within the limits of the available data.

″If anything, I think their predictions are fairly conservative and an underestimation,″ he said in a telephone interview.

Investigators were unable to acquire smoking statistics from every country, which would allow the most precise estimates.

Instead, they compared data on lung-cancer death rates among American non- smokers to the lung-cancer death rate in each country to get an estimate of the number of smokers in a nation. They used other data from the American Cancer Society to estimate how many smokers would die of various other smoking-related causes, such as heart disease.

The researchers said they used lung-cancer rates as the yardstick ″because in developed countries, lung cancer is so closely related to smoking and so seldom caused by any other factor among non-smokers.″

According to the report, 10 percent of middle-age British men will die from smoking by the time they are 35 to 69 years old. In Poland, 20 percent of men are doomed to die from smoking, the researchers predict.

In Spain, where women began smoking in large numbers in the 1970s, the lung cancer rate among women remains low. But Peto said lung cancer is increasing and will kill millions of Spanish women in the next decades.

Peto said he hoped the survey would encourage governments to enforce stringent anti-smoking policies, such as banning cigarette advertisements or raising cigarette prices.

In addition to lung cancer, smoking also increases the risk of cancer of the mouth, larynx, esophagus, kidney and bladder. Smokers are also more likely than non-smokers to die of heart attacks and strokes.

Judith Hatton, a researcher at FOREST, a British organization for smokers’ rights, called the statistics unreliable. The Tobacco Institute in Washington declined to comment.

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