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Thursday, 16 August, 2001, 08:13 GMT 09:13 UK
China's smoking timebomb
Chinese respiratory patient
Many men will develop smoking-related respiratory problems
One-third of all young men in China are likely to die from smoking-related diseases, say scientists.

Experts made the prediction after studying thousands of deaths in Hong Kong.

We predict a large increase in deaths attributable  to tobacco in China over the next few decades

Sir Richard Peto
They say unless Chinese men are encouraged to give up smoking, millions will die in the coming years.

One third of all the cigarettes produced in the world are now smoked in China.

It is thought that the Chinese government is the biggest cigarette manufacturer in the world.

The researchers estimate that if Chinese men continue their habit, 100 million are likely to die because of their smoking.

Half of those will die between the ages of 35 and 65.

Hong Kong

The team of scientists based their study on the city of Hong Kong, because it developed ahead of the rest of China and so is an ideal place to predict how changes will affect the mainland.

Smoking in the territory peaked in the 1970s, but - in common with elsewhere in the developed world - death rates peaked 20 years later.

The team from the University of Hong Kong and Oxford University investigated every mortality in 1998.

One-third of all the deaths among middle-aged men was attributed to smoking.

If the trend is mirrored in China, half of an estimated 200 million men who smoke could die from tobacco-related diseases in the next three decades.

The results appear to confirm a much larger research project carried out by the Oxford team in China three years ago.

The scientists believe the only way to tackle the problem is to encourage people to quit.

However, smoking rates are still climbing, and no one knows when they will peak.

Researcher Sir Richard Peto, from Imperial Cancer Research Fund, said: "Unless there is widespread cessation by adults who already smoke, we predict a large increase in deaths attributable  to tobacco in China over the next few decades.

"Two thirds of all the young men in China become smokers. Half the smokers who persist will eventually be killed by their habit.

"Thus, on present smoking patterns, about one third of all the young men in China will eventually be killed by tobacco."

Smoking is far more common among men than women in China.

The research is published in the British Medical Journal.

The BBC's Damian Grammaticas
"Around 200 million young Chinese men smoke"
Research team leader Prof TH Lam
"Hopefully China will take this evidence very seriously"
See also:

16 Mar 00 | Crossing Continents
China lights up
19 Nov 98 | Health
China's cigarette threat
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