ONE in three young men in China is likely to die from the effects of smoking tobacco, research has found.
The study, by researchers from Oxford University, the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and the Chinese Centre for Disease Control, show that two-thirds of young men in China take up smoking, mostly before the age of 20, and half of those will eventually be killed by tobacco unless they stop permanently.
The research, published in medical journal The Lancet, involved two studies 15 years apart and included hundreds of thousands of people.
The report said the number of tobacco-related deaths, mostly among men, reached a million by 2010 and will hit two million by 2030 if current trends continue.
But researchers say the trend could be stemmed if smokers quit.
“The key to avoid this huge wave of deaths is cessation, and if you are a young man, don’t start,” said co-author Richard Peto, from the University of Oxford.
Smoking rates have dropped significantly among men in developed countries. In the United States, about 20 per cent of adult men smoke and 15 per cent of women do, and cigarette smoking causes about one in five deaths, said the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
In China, the percentage of smokers among Chinese men has been rising in recent decades as cigarettes have become more readily available.
As more Chinese people start to smoke at younger ages, researchers expect the proportion of male deaths attributed to smoking to increase.
Around the world, tobacco kills up to half of its users, and more than five million deaths annually result from direct tobacco use, according to the World Health Organisation.
However, with tobacco an important source of revenue for the Chinese government, Beijing’s efforts to control its use have in the past been compromised. Also, many people in China find it difficult to kick the habit in a culture where smoking has become so ingrained.
“It is difficult, because there is a lot of pressure at work, so I smoke to alleviate the tension,” Beijing office worker Wei Bin, 32, said in an interview.
“At the same time our country does not provide good support for people who want to quit. I have tried electronic cigarettes, but I think that is perhaps worse,” Mr Wei said.
Some Chinese are showing growing awareness of the health risks and seeking to quit.