Smoking's hidden death toll revealed

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SMOKING causes hundreds of thousands more deaths each year than previously thought, dramatic scientific research has revealed.

A study, led by experts in Glasgow, showed heightened chances of dying from cancers of the colon, rectum and prostate, as well as from lymphatic leukaemia.

These illnesses cause 930,000 deaths worldwide each year, in addition to more than five million smoking-related deaths estimated by the World Health Organisation as being caused by diseases such as lung cancer, which have long been linked to smoking.

Scotland's health minister and anti-smoking campaigners have welcomed the study as further proof of the need to clamp down on the habit.

About 13,000 Scots a year die of lung cancer and other smoking-related diseases, such heart illnesses. Another 1,600 people die in Scotland each year from the cancers newly linked to the habit.

The Scottish Government last month unveiled controversial new plans to curb smoking, by proposing a ban on cigarettes being displayed in shops. And ministers south of the border have suggested scrapping packs of 10 cigarettes because of their popularity among young smokers.

The new study, which has been published in the journal Annals of Oncology, was carried out by a team led by experts at Glasgow University and was based on data from 17,363 male civil servants based in London.

Information about their health and habits has been collated since the 1960s in an effort to gain information about health trends and find links between lifestyle and illness. The original link between smoking and lung cancer was found through similar analysis of medical data.

The study found:

• A 43% increase in the chances of dying from cancer of the colon if the person smokes.

• A 40% higher likelihood of dying from rectal cancer.

• An increase of 23% in the chances of losing one's life to prostate cancer.

• A 53% rise in mortality from lymphatic leukaemia among smokers.

The study concluded: "Cigarette smoking appears to be a risk factor for several malignancies of previously unclear association with tobacco use."

Dr David Batty, of the Medical Research Council Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, based at the University of Glasgow, said: "What this study shows is that smoking is linked to more kinds of cancer than previously thought. It's important to remember that cancer is not a single disease and that the various kinds of cancers are different illnesses so you couldn't necessarily assume that smoking was linked to them in the same way. What's unclear is how exactly smoking causes these cancers."

Health Minister Shona Robison said: "This study appears to demonstrate that smoking is even more carcinogenic than was realised.

It also underlines the importance of Scotland's smoking ban in public places, which is helping to safeguard the health of thousands of people working in previously smoky environments."

Sheila Duffy, chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health Scotland, said: "This large-scale study adds to the weight of existing research confirming the harmfulness of smoking. It's vital that smokers receive support and encouragement to quit and as a nation we take steps to ensure future generations avoid getting hooked on this lethal and highly addictive substance."

Ed Yong, health information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: "The dangers of cigarette smoke go far beyond its well-known link to lung cancer. It's interesting to see that even after 50 years of research, studies are still revealing new dangers."

However, one leading medical experts questioned the conclusions.

Fouad Habib, professor of experimental urology at Edinburgh University, and an expert in prostate cancer, said: "This study is bit of a surprise and very much the first of its kind. Until now it's not been thought that there was any link between smoking and prostate cancer and I would have thought that there are factors which play a much greater role, such as genetics."

Meanwhile, smokers' groups insisted the research should not be used to push through tougher anti-smoking rules.

Neil Rafferty, spokesman for the smokers' lobby group the Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco, said: "We are not suggesting the smoking is anything other than bad for you. People enjoy it, but they know that it's not good for them and they take the choice. No doubt the anti-smoking lobby will want to use this to erode our freedoms still further. At the end of the day, we are adults. Let us get on with our lives."

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