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BMJ Open. 2012; 2(5): e001676.
Published online 2012 October 9. doi:  10.1136/bmjopen-2012-001676
PMCID: PMC3488725

Impacts of early smoking initiation: long-term trends of lung cancer mortality and smoking initiation from repeated cross-sectional surveys in Great Britain



To show long-term trends of smoking initiation in Great Britain including unanalysed data and assess the impact of early smoking initiation on the lung cancer mortality in later ages focusing on birth cohorts.


Reanalysis of repeated cross-sectional surveys conducted 13 times during 1965–1987.


Great Britain.


Men and women aged 16 years and over in each survey.

Primary outcome measures

Smoking initiation for 1898–1969 birth cohorts and lung cancer mortality in 1950–2009.


In men, 1900–1925 birth cohorts showed high smoking initiation (>32%, >50% and >80% at 15, 17 and 29 years old, respectively). Correspondingly, the lung cancer mortality in these cohorts exceeded 1 per 1000 at a young age (50–54 years old). In women, smoking initiation increased clearly from the 1898 cohort to the 1925 cohort (2% to 12%, 4% to 24%, and 13% to 54% at 15, 17 and 29 years old, respectively). Correspondingly, the age at which the mortality exceeded 1 per 1000 became younger (75–79 to 60–64 years old). In both men and women, short-term decreases in initiation were seen from the late-1920s cohorts. Correspondingly, lung cancer mortality decreased. In women, initiation increased again after the mid-1930s cohorts, and mortality increased after they became 60–64 years old.


Clear relationships between smoking initiation and lung cancer mortality across birth cohorts were observed. Countries with rapid increases in initiation in teens should not underestimate the risk in the distant future. Because of the long time lags within cohorts compared with rapid changes in smoking habits across cohorts, age-specific measures focusing on birth cohorts should be monitored.

Keywords: Public Health, Preventive Medicine, Statistics & Research Methods

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