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The Hazards Of Smoking And The Benefits Of Cessation: A Critical Summation Of The Epidemiological Evidence In High-income Countries

Prabhat Jha

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In high-income countries, the biggest cause of premature death, defined as death before 70 years, is smoking of manufactured cigarettes. Smoking-related disease was responsible for about 41 million deaths in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada, cumulatively, from 1960 to 2020. Every million cigarettes smoked leads to one death in the US and Canada, but slightly more than one death in the UK. The 21st century hazards reveal that smokers who start smoking early in adult life and do not quit lose a decade of life expectancy versus non-smokers. Cessation, particularly before age 40 years, yields large reductions in mortality risk. Up to two-thirds of deaths among smokers are avoidable at non-smoking death rates, and former smokers have about only a quarter of the excess risk of death compared to current smokers. The gap between scientific and popular understanding of smoking hazards is surprisingly large.