Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point
On Air
Low Graphics

Tuesday, September 8, 1998 Published at 11:20 GMT 12:20 UK


The middle age quit smoking and live longer

The UK has experienced a big drop in middle age death rates

Britain has experienced one of the biggest falls worldwide in middle age death rates because of a big drop in smoking in recent years, according to a leading scientist.

Professor Richard Peto, professor of medical statistics and epidemiology at Oxford University, told the British Association of Science conference that many thousands of middle aged Britons were alive today because they had given up smoking.

Professor Peto said that, in 1965, 42% of men died before the age of 70 and nearly half of these deaths were due to smoking.

By 1995 the death rate dropped to 28% and only a third were attributed to tobacco.

Professor Peto said: "The decrease in mortality is being driven by a decrease in tobacco."

Class differences

Smoking was also the cause of most of the differences in death rates between the rich and poor, Professor Peto added, because the people from lower social classes and on smaller incomes are more likely to take up the habit.

He told the conference that the best way to reduce death rates worldwide was to target tobacco - which along with the HIV virus was the biggest killer. Approximately 100 million people will die from smoking worldwide over the next 20 years.

Professor Peto said: "You can save far more lives by a moderate reduction in the big causes of death than by a large reduction in smaller causes. Tobacco is still the biggest killer we've got."

"Half of all smokers are killed by tobacco, but stopping works amazingly well; even in middle age smokers who stop avoid most of their risk of death from tobacco and stopping before middle age avoids almost all the risk."

[ image: Smoking is linked to premature death]
Smoking is linked to premature death
Clive Bates, director of Action on Smoking and Health, welcomed Professor Peto's comments as yet more evidence that smoking was harmful and linked to premature death.

Mr Bates said: "It is good news. It shows that if you do give up smoking you will get a health benefit and that smokers are not irretrievably doomed."

Child death rates falling

Professor Peto said infant deaths had decreased at amazing rates in the last 100 years, with only about 1% of children worldwide dying before their fifth birthday.

The global priority was now shifting to the prevention of deaths in middle age.

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©

Health Contents

Background Briefings
Medical notes
Relevant Stories

19 Jun 98 | Health
Smoking may double the risk of Alzheimer's

09 Jun 98 | Latest News
Smokers 'should get help on NHS'

31 May 98 | Latest News
Parents urged to quit smoking

Internet Links

Action on Smoking and Health

Report of the UK Government's Scientific Committee on Tobacco and Health

Tobacco industry information

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

In this section

Disability in depth

Spotlight: Bristol inquiry

Antibiotics: A fading wonder

Mental health: An overview

Alternative medicine: A growth industry

The meningitis files

Long-term care: A special report

Aids up close

From cradle to grave

NHS reforms: A guide

NHS Performance 1999

From Special Report
NHS in crisis: Special report

British Medical Association conference '99

Royal College of Nursing conference '99