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EDITIONS
Monday, 25 November, 2002, 01:07 GMT
China facing cancer epidemic
Two out of three Chinese men smoke
Three million people will soon die of smoking-related diseases in China each year, experts have predicted.

Smoking is currently blamed for one million deaths each year across China.

But doctors have warned that the figures will rocket in the years ahead unless more is done to encourage people to quit the habit.


One third of the young men now living in China are going to get killed by tobacco

Sir Richard Peto
Two out of three Chinese smoke. China accounts for 20% of the world's population but its people smoke 30% of the world's cigarettes.

Sir Richard Peto of Oxford University said deaths from smoking-related diseases have increased sharply in recent years.

"There has been a big increase in the past few decades and they are now just in the middle of a huge increase in deaths from tobacco.

"They already have about one million deaths a year from tobacco in China but there is going to be about two or three million a year when the young men of today reach middle age."

Serious diseases

Sir Richard said people who smoke in China die from a variety of conditions.

"Smoking kills people in lots of different ways. In China, it causes deaths from chronic lung disease. It causes death from cancer of the lung, cancer of the mouth, throat, stomach and liver. It causes heart attacks, strokes.

"It also decreases the resistance of the lungs to infection. The various bugs that can attack the lungs particularly tuberculosis are more likely to get you.


Half of all smokers eventually get killed by it if they don't stop

Sir Richard Peto
"The death rate from tuberculosis is higher in smokers than among non-smokers."

According to Sir Richard, many ordinary Chinese are simply unaware of the risks associated with smoking.

"In general, people don't know it. They still think smoking is just completely natural. They don't really see it as a serious problem. That is changing but very shortly.

"But I would say the majority don't know that it's really serious. What they don't know is how big the risks are.

"The facts are that in China about one in two of all people who start smoking young and keep on smoking will get killed by the habit, just like in the West.

"Where you have two thirds of the young men in China smoking that means that one third of the young men now living in China are going to get killed by tobacco.

"The risk is big. Half of all smokers eventually get killed by it if they don't stop."

But Sir Richard added that the risks can be substantially reduced if people kick the habit before they are diagnosed with a serious illness.

"Stopping really works remarkably well. If you stop before you get lung cancer or some other serious disease then you avoid most of the risk of tobacco killing you.

"Even if you've been smoking quite a long time, if you stop then you will avoid most of the risks of smoking killing you."

This story is featured in the radio programme Health Matters on the BBC World Service.

Click here for listening times

See also:

16 Aug 01 | Health
09 Aug 00 | Health
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