To monitor the evolving epidemic of mortality from tobacco in China following the large increase in male cigarette use in recent decades.
Prospective study of smoking and mortality starting with 224 500 interviewees who should eventually be followed for some decades.
45 nationally representative small urban or rural areas distributed across China.
Male population aged 40 or over in 1991, of whom about 80% were interviewed about smoking, drinking, and medical history.
Main outcome measure
Cause specific mortality, initially to 1995 but later to continue, with smoker versus non-smoker risk ratios standardised for area, age, and use of alcohol.
74% were smokers (73% current, only 1% former), but few of this generation would have smoked substantial numbers of cigarettes since early adult life. Overall mortality is increased among smokers (risk ratio 1.19; 95% confidence interval 1.13 to 1.25, P<0.0001). Almost all the increased mortality involved neoplastic, respiratory, or vascular disease. The overall risk ratios currently associated with smoking are less extreme in rural areas (1.26, 1.12, or 1.02 respectively for smokers who started before age 20, at 20-24, or at older ages) than in urban areas (1.73, 1.40, or 1.16 respectively).
This prospective study and the accompanying retrospective study show that by 1990 smoking was already causing about 12% of Chinese male mortality in middle age. This proportion is predicted to rise to about 33% by 2030. Long term continuation of the prospective study (with periodic resurveys) can monitor the evolution of this epidemic.
Key messagesIn recent years most young men in China have become persistent cigarette smokers, starting at about age 20; this will cause high mortality in middle age and old ageCurrently, however, most middle aged and older smokers (particularly in rural areas) have not persistently used substantial daily numbers of cigarettes ever since they were young adults, so their current tobacco attributed mortality is more limitedNationally representative retrospective and prospective studies now show that in about 1990 “only” about 12% of adult male deaths in middle age were caused by smokingContinuation of the present prospective study will monitor the growth of the epidemic of tobacco related deaths in China over the next few decades