Women who stop smoking in their thirties can gain 10 years of life, according to a study by the University of Oxford.
The study, the largest one ever of female smoking habits, revealed that quitting smoking before the age of 40 can reduce the risk of its negative impacts by up to 90%, and by 97% before the age of 30.
Experts also found that the negative effects of smoking are more serious than first believed. Those participants who were still smokers three years after the study began, were nearly three times as likely as non-smokers to die over the next nine years. Moreover, the deaths of two thirds of female smokers who died in their fifties, sixties and seventies were linked to smoking-related diseases. Women took up smoking much later than men; the first female smokers were born in the 1940s, and have consequently only recently reached the age when a comprehensive study can be conducted. The study is therefore the first of its kind, researching the effects of smoking on women.
Richard Peto, the study’s co-author, said: “Only in the 21st century could we observe directly the full effects of prolonged smoking, and of prolonged cessation, on premature mortality among women”. He added: “If women smoke like men, they die like men – but, whether they are men or women, smokers who stop before reaching middle age will, on average, gain about an extra 10 years of life”.
The research, published in the Lancet last week, was released to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Sir Richard Doll, a former Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University who was one of the first to show a link between lung cancer and smoking.
Responding to the findings, Jean King, Cancer Research UK’s director of tobacco policy, said: “Evidence about the danger to health from smoking, has been building for well over half a century. The first studies examined the risks of smoking to men, but this research shows just how harmful it is for women too.
“Quitting at any age is the best thing any smoker – men and women – can do for their health, and the earlier they quit the better.’’ She added: “This study also illustrates how important it is to prevent girls and young women from taking up smoking in the first place. It’s for this reason we’re calling on the government to remove distracting packaging and introduce plain, standardised packs.”
A first-year student at Somerville said: ‘‘Research on the effects of smoking on women can only be a positive thing’’, but added that ‘‘the findings may trivialise smoking among the young, and lead them to believe there are fewer risks.’’
The research was based on the Oxford based ‘MillionWomen’ study, taking data from 1.3 million women between the ages of 50 and 65 between 1996 and 2001. It was funded by Cancer Research UK, the Medical Research Council and the Health and Safety Executive.