Washington: Women smokers have a dramatically increased risk of death from lung cancer and other ailments linked to tobacco use than in the past 20 years, a new US study claims.
Women smokers today smoke more like men than women in previous generations, beginning earlier in adolescence and until recently smoking more cigarettes per day - consumption peaked among female smokers in the 1980s, according to the study published in New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).
The increase in risk of death from lung cancer and chronic obstructive lung disease (COLD) in female smokers has been large enough to completely offset improvements in longevity from medical advances that have reduced death rates in the rest of the population over the last 50 years.
"The steep increase in risk among female smokers has continued for decades after the serious health risks from smoking were well established, and despite the fact that women predominantly smoked cigarette brands marketed as lower in `tar` and nicotine," said Michael J Thun, former vice president emeritus of the American Cancer Society (ACS).
To find out if these changing patterns have caused women`s risk to converge with those in men, researchers measured fifty-year trends in mortality related to smoking across three time periods (1959-65, 1982-88 and 2000-2010), by comparing five large contemporary studies with two historical ACS cohorts.
The study included more than 2.2 million adults 55 years and older. For women who smoked in the 1960s, the risk of dying from lung cancer was 2.7 times higher than that of non-smokers.
In the contemporary cohorts (2000-2010) the risk was 25.7 times higher than that of never-smokers. The risk of dying from COLD among female smokers was 4.0 times higher than that of never-smokers in the 1960s; in the contemporary cohort, this risk increased to 22.5 times higher than never-smokers.
About half of the increase in risk of both conditions occurred during the last 20 years. In male smokers, lung cancer risk plateaued at the high level observed in the 1980s, while the risk of death from chronic obstructive lung disease continues to increase for reasons that are unclear.
Men and women smokers in the contemporary cohorts had nearly identically higher relative risks (compared to never smokers) for lung cancer, chronic obstructive lung disease, ischemic heart disease, stroke, and other heart disease.
The research also confirmed that quitting smoking at any age dramatically lowers mortality from all major diseases caused by smoking, and that quitting smoking is far more effective than reducing the number of cigarettes smoked.