A UK study has shown that women who quit smoking before they are 30 can cut the risk of smoking-related death. The study published in the Lancet this month, showed that women who smoked all of their lives were likely to die an average of 10 years earlier than non-smokers. However, by quitting before they hit 30, life expectancy was just 1 month shorter on average than those who had never smoked and those who gave up before they were 40 lived just one year less than non-smokers.

The effects of smoking on men have been long known but as the trend for smoking in women started much later, it would appear that the health risks for female smokers have been underestimated and have, until now, remain unconfirmed.

Smoking in young women started in the 1950s and 1960s so this study was able to examine the effects of smoking and quitting within this first generation of women smokers.

The study
More than 1.3 million women across the UK enrolled in the study between 1996 and 2001. Of these, 100,000 were excluded because they had a previously diagnosed disease, around 620,000 had never smoked, 329,000 had given up at some point and 232,000 were still smokers.

The participants completed questionnaires about present and past smoking habits when they were recruited, then again 3 years and 8 years later, with 23% of smokers quitting before the second survey and a total of 44% quitting by the 8-year survey.

The majority of participants were born between 1938 and 1946, fitting the demographic of highest female smoking rates, with the average age at enrolment being 55.

The results
In the period following enrolment 6% (around 66,000) of the participants died, and their cause of death recorded for the purpose of the study. The results were adjusted to take into account age, drinking habits, exercise levels, oral contraceptive use, menopause stage and use of Hormone Replacement Therapy and socioeconomic status as reported by the participants.

Results showed that:
Regardless of age, the study found that the women who reported smoking at the 3 year survey were 3 times more likely to die within the next 12 years.
Of the 30 most common causes of death in the UK, current smokers were at a significantly greater risk of 23.
Current smokers were 95% more likely to develop chronic lung diseases and lung cancer.
Light current smokers (fewer than 10 cigarettes a day) were at a significantly more likely to die within 12 years after the 3-year review than never-smokers.

Quitting Age Counts
The researchers categorized their results according to the age that women quit: under 25, 25-34, 35-44 and 45-54.

Women who quit aged 34 and under reduced their risk to almost the same as never-smokers, those who quit between the ages of 35 and 44 were at 20% increased risk compared to never-smokers and those who quit between 45 and 54 were at a 56% increased risk.

The researchers wrote that “stopping well before age 40 years would avoid well over 90% of the excess hazard in continuing smokers”.

However, they stress that this does not make smoking until your mid-thirties safe, as one in 6 smokers who quit between 35 and 44 will die as a result of their smoking in earlier life.

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