Wei Zheng and colleagues quantify the burden of tobacco-smoking-related deaths for adults in Asia.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Tobacco smoking is a major risk factor for many diseases. We sought to quantify the burden of tobacco-smoking-related deaths in Asia, in parts of which men's smoking prevalence is among the world's highest.
Methods and Findings
We performed pooled analyses of data from 1,049,929 participants in 21 cohorts in Asia to quantify the risks of total and cause-specific mortality associated with tobacco smoking using adjusted hazard ratios and their 95% confidence intervals. We then estimated smoking-related deaths among adults aged ≥45 y in 2004 in Bangladesh, India, mainland China, Japan, Republic of Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan—accounting for ∼71% of Asia's total population. An approximately 1.44-fold (95% CI = 1.37–1.51) and 1.48-fold (1.38–1.58) elevated risk of death from any cause was found in male and female ever-smokers, respectively. In 2004, active tobacco smoking accounted for approximately 15.8% (95% CI = 14.3%–17.2%) and 3.3% (2.6%–4.0%) of deaths, respectively, in men and women aged ≥45 y in the seven countries/regions combined, with a total number of estimated deaths of ∼1,575,500 (95% CI = 1,398,000–1,744,700). Among men, approximately 11.4%, 30.5%, and 19.8% of deaths due to cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and respiratory diseases, respectively, were attributable to tobacco smoking. Corresponding proportions for East Asian women were 3.7%, 4.6%, and 1.7%, respectively. The strongest association with tobacco smoking was found for lung cancer: a 3- to 4-fold elevated risk, accounting for 60.5% and 16.7% of lung cancer deaths, respectively, in Asian men and East Asian women aged ≥45 y.
Tobacco smoking is associated with a substantially elevated risk of mortality, accounting for approximately 2 million deaths in adults aged ≥45 y throughout Asia in 2004. It is likely that smoking-related deaths in Asia will continue to rise over the next few decades if no effective smoking control programs are implemented.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Every year, more than 5 million smokers die from tobacco-related diseases. Tobacco smoking is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease (conditions that affect the heart and the circulation), respiratory disease (conditions that affect breathing), lung cancer, and several other types of cancer. All told, tobacco smoking kills up to half its users. The ongoing global “epidemic” of tobacco smoking and tobacco-related diseases initially affected people living in the US and other Western countries, where the prevalence of smoking (the proportion of the population that smokes) in men began to rise in the early 1900s, peaking in the 1960s. A similar epidemic occurred in women about 40 years later. Smoking-related deaths began to increase in the second half of the 20th century, and by the 1990s, tobacco smoking accounted for a third of all deaths and about half of cancer deaths among men in the US and other Western countries. More recently, increased awareness of the risks of smoking and the introduction of various tobacco control measures has led to a steady decline in tobacco use and in smoking-related diseases in many developed countries.
Why Was This Study Done?
Unfortunately, less well-developed tobacco control programs, inadequate public awareness of smoking risks, and tobacco company marketing have recently led to sharp increases in the prevalence of smoking in many low- and middle-income countries, particularly in Asia. More than 50% of men in many Asian countries are now smokers, about twice the prevalence in many Western countries, and more women in some Asian countries are smoking than previously. More than half of the world's billion smokers now live in Asia. However, little is known about the burden of tobacco-related mortality (deaths) in this region. In this study, the researchers quantify the risk of total and cause-specific mortality associated with tobacco use among adults aged 45 years or older by undertaking a pooled statistical analysis of data collected from 21 Asian cohorts (groups) about their smoking history and health.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
For their study, the researchers used data from more than 1 million participants enrolled in studies undertaken in Bangladesh, India, mainland China, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan (which together account for 71% of Asia's total population). Smoking prevalences among male and female participants were 65.1% and 7.1%, respectively. Compared with never-smokers, ever-smokers had a higher risk of death from any cause in pooled analyses of all the cohorts (adjusted hazard ratios [HRs] of 1.44 and 1.48 for men and women, respectively; an adjusted HR indicates how often an event occurs in one group compared to another group after adjustment for other characteristics that affect an individual's risk of the event). Compared with never smoking, ever smoking was associated with a higher risk of death due to cardiovascular disease, cancer (particularly lung cancer), and respiratory disease among Asian men and among East Asian women. Moreover, the researchers estimate that, in the countries included in this study, tobacco smoking accounted for 15.8% of all deaths among men and 3.3% of deaths among women in 2004—a total of about 1.5 million deaths, which scales up to 2 million deaths for the population of the whole of Asia. Notably, in 2004, tobacco smoking accounted for 60.5% of lung-cancer deaths among Asian men and 16.7% of lung-cancer deaths among East Asian women.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings provide strong evidence that tobacco smoking is associated with a substantially raised risk of death among adults aged 45 years or older throughout Asia. The association between smoking and mortality risk in Asia reported here is weaker than that previously reported for Western countries, possibly because widespread tobacco smoking started several decades later in most Asian countries than in Europe and North America and the deleterious effects of smoking take some years to become evident. The researchers note that certain limitations of their analysis are likely to affect the accuracy of its findings. For example, because no data were available to estimate the impact of secondhand smoke, the estimate of deaths attributable to smoking is likely to be an underestimate. However, the finding that nearly 45% of the global deaths from active tobacco smoking occur in Asia highlights the urgent need to implement comprehensive tobacco control programs in Asia to reduce the burden of tobacco-related disease.
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001631.
The World Health Organization provides information about the dangers of tobacco (in several languages) and about the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, an international instrument for tobacco control that came into force in February 2005 and requires parties to implement a set of core tobacco control provisions including legislation to ban tobacco advertising and to increase tobacco taxes; its 2013 report on the global tobacco epidemic is available
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides detailed information about all aspects of smoking and tobacco use
The UK National Health Services Choices website provides information about the health risks associated with smoking
MedlinePlus has links to further information about the dangers of smoking (in English and Spanish)
SmokeFree, a website provided by the UK National Health Service, offers advice on quitting smoking and includes personal stories from people who have stopped smoking
Smokefree.gov, from the US National Cancer Institute, offers online tools and resources to help people quit smoking